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Summary:

The U.S. government continues to give small grants to early stage next-generation battery technology in an effort to boost innovation in the U.S., and provide energy storage for electric cars and the power grid.

Leyden Energy battery cells 2

Primus Power’s flow battery

The Department of Energy’s program that gives grants to early-stage energy projects — called ARPA-E — has allocated another $43 million for 19 battery projects, including grants for futuristic batteries made of new chemical mixes, using brand new architectures and utilizing nanotechnology. The ARPA-E program has been aggressively funding next-generation battery technologies over the years, and though these are small grants, the amount of innovation happening is substantial.

The funds go to projects that are very early stage, and are supposed to help bring disruptive R&D closer to commercialization. While Japanese and Korean conglomerates dominate the industry of producing small format lithium ion batteries for laptops and cell phones, these next-gen batteries are mostly targeted for electric cars and the power grid. Some of these projects also aren’t strictly traditional batteries, and a couple are flow batteries, which are large tanks of chemicals that flow into a containerized system and provide energy storage for the power grid (see Primus Power’s flow battery pictured).

Notable winners of the funds include big companies like Ford, GE, and Eaton, small startups like Khosla Ventures-backed Pellion, and projects out of the labs of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Battelle Memorial Institute, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Here’s some of the winners (for the full list of 19 go here):

  • Ford: $3.13 million for a very precise battery testing device that can improve forecasting of battery-life.
  • GE Global Research: $3.13 million for sensors thin-film sensors that can detect and monitor temperature and surface pressure for each cell within a battery pack.
  • Eaton: $2.50 million for a system that optimizes the power and operation of hybrid electric vehicles.
  • Pellion Technologies: $2.50 million for the startup’s long range battery for electric vehicles.
  • Sila Nanotechnologies: $1.73 million for the startup’s lithium ion electric car battery that it says has double the capacity of current lithium ion batteries.
  • Xilectric: $1.73 million to “reinvent Thomas Edison’s battery chemistries for today’s electric vehicles.”
  • Energy Storage Systems: $1.73 million for a flow battery for the grid, with an electrolyte made of low cost iron, and using a next-gen cell design.
  • Battelle Memorial Institute: $600K for a sensor to monitor the internal environment of a lithium-ion battery in real-time.
  1. I wonder how many of the old ARPA battery projects like Planar Energy and Recapping will get even close to commercialization. Just guessing the air batteries and the nanocathode and nanoanode batteries are the closest to being real products.

    When you look at Eestor you realize that attracting investors is a product too even if the product is all BS-hype. Eestor admitted recently that they don’t even have one layer working despite intimating for years that their technology had already developed and tested.

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  2. A123 is capitalized via the stock market. Their stock price has recently hit the skids, either making A123 an attractive bargain or a fool’s venture.

    A123 is pursuiting Li-ion nanophosphate technology, and while I don’t understand the details of the R&D, it would seem that none of the start-up battery company’s mentioned here directly address either the benefits or pit-falls of A123 technology.

    Does any one here have an opinion either way?

    And how close are any of the other battery systems noted here to commercialization or market funding?

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  3. Todd Crawford Friday, August 31, 2012

    there needs to be more media coverage of battery technology and technology (medical, energy, etc) in general. good example: GraphExeter, developed in England, set to become widely used for a number of products it would seem.

    CNBC, PBS, and some big sites on the web (CNN Money, Forbes, and BBC cover some tech news, but it’s clearly not enough. I use NewFuelist, but none of the smaller sites have enough info on technology development, investment, and commercialisation,contracting.

    I would like to know which next generation of either Lithium-ion or Vanadium batteries Tesla Motors or Toyota might be considering.

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  4. HI Katie – there is one very important aspect to these awards that is missing. These projects are all aimed at improving the chemistry of batteries and only offer incremental improvements. What is needed is a jump from chemical to solid state energy storage. Can you imagine if we had never moved beyond vacuum tubes to transistors. That would sure take the ‘silicon’ out or silicon valley.

    The future is in solid state energy storage or super capacitors to be more to the point. The first company to nail this will change the world. My money is on Elon Musk to be the one to bring this to market. I’m guessing 3-5 years. The wow factor will be amazing.

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