Sakti3’s Solid State Lithium Batteries
Energy storage is a hot topic among investors these days. From electric cars to solar energy storage, some of today’s most disruptive technologies are being held back by archaic battery technologies. Take basic lithium-ion batteries for example, which haven’t changed dramatically since Sony first introduced them to consumers in 1991. The technology itself isn’t going anywhere, with Tesla preparing to build the largest lithium-ion battery production plant in the world. The focus is now on how to improve lithium ion batteries, and this involves focusing on any one of the three main components in a battery; the electrolyte, the anode or the cathode. One way forward is to develop solid-state lithium batteries which remove the need for electrolyte all together. Commercial interest in such a technology is strong, with Bosch recently agreeing to acquire a startup called Seeo which has been developing solid-state batteries based on a nano-structured polymer electrolyte. Another startup looking to take solid-state lithium batteries mainstream is Sakti3.
Founded in 2008, Sakti3 has taken in $50 million in funding so far from the likes of General Motors, Dyson, and Khosla Ventures. Khosla was also an investor in Seeo before they were acquired by Bosch. Ann Marie Sastry, a former engineering professor at the University of Michigan, founded Sakti3 based on technology she had been developing for over 20 years. For those who are wondering about the origins of the name, Sakti is Sanskrit for “power,” and “3” is the atomic number of lithium.
Why Solid-State Batteries are Better
Using a liquid electrolyte in lithium-ion battery packs, such as those used in Tesla’s cars, requires a great deal of additional packaging to control temperature and for safety. This added packaging incurs additional cost, takes up more space, and increases weight. Solid-state batteries can improve both the battery lifetime and safety while at the same time dramatically increasing the amount of power stored in a given space. Solid-state batteries exist today, but are prohibitively expensive. According to an article this year in the Wall Street Journal in which Sakti3 CEO Ann Marie Sastry was interviewed:
Solid batteries already exist, though they tend to be tiny—just big enough to fit next to a microchip, providing backup power in case of interruption. Using current technologies, a solid battery large enough to power a cellphone would cost $15,000, if it could be built. And one big enough to power a car would cost $90 million. But, says Dr. Sastry, “We project being able to hit $100 per kilowatt-hour at scale. That’s less than half the cost of the incumbents.”
To put this in perspective, Tesla’s batteries currently cost around $500 a kilowatt-hour. Energy firm Frost & Sullivan believes that the best Tesla can do by the end of the decade is get down to $250 per kilowatt-hour.
Sakti3 says its solid-state cells will not only be cheaper but will more than double the energy density of today’s best Li-Ion batteries. Sakti3 batteries are produced using the same thin-film deposition process which is used to manufacture flat panel displays and solar cells. There is no liquid electrolyte used in the process unlike most commonly used lithium batteries. The first planned application for these solid-state batteries is expected to be consumer electronics.
While venture capitalist investors like Khosla have lots of opportunities to make bets on new battery technologies, not too many opportunities are available for retail investors who eagerly await the first IPO from a battery technology game-changer.