Summary:

Ambri’s low cost power grid battery is getting ready for commercialization, which could pair economic energy storage with wind and solar farms.

Manufacturing equipment at Ambri's prototype plant.

A new kind of battery for the power grid, made from liquid metal and developed at MIT, is getting ever closer to plugging into the power grid. On Wednesday, four-year-old battery company Ambri announced that it’s raised a Series C round of $35 million in equity to help it push toward getting its batteries into the hands of its first power company customers. Ambri officially cut the ribbon on its first ever battery manufacturing factory in Marlborough, Massachusetts late last year.

Ambri’s battery uses molten salt sandwiched between two layers of liquid metal. The company is the brainchild of MIT Professor Don Sadoway and the idea was to create a battery that uses super low-cost materials but is stable and scalable enough to enable economical grid storage and renewable energy storage applications. The battery is a third the cost of a comparable lithium ion battery, lasts far longer than lithium ion batteries, and is easier to manufacturer and assemble (so cheap to make and install).

New investors in Ambri’s round include Swiss insurance company Building Insurance Bern (GVB), and KLP Enterprises, the family office of Karen Pritzker and Michael Vlock (Pritzker is the heir to the Hyatt hotel chain and industrial conglomerate Marmon, and Vlock is her husband). The new investors represent the changing face of the types of investors that are willing to back next-generation energy technologies: fewer venture capitalists and Silicon Valley types, and more family offices, multinational investors that are focused on climate change issues, as well as corporate investors.

Ambris’ previous investors — Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates and oil company Total — all participated in the round. Khosla Venture’s Andrew Chung has been supporting Ambri from the very beginning, and early on gave Professor Sadoway a $100,000 grant (that was back when Chung was with another firm called Lightspeed).

Ambri will use the new funds to build out its initial factory and deliver batteries to its first customers, including to a wind farm in Hawaii built by First Wind, and to a military base on Cape Cod. These first customers will get prototype batteries, which will be delivered this year and in 2015. Ambri won’t build a full scale commercial battery factory until 2015.

To date Ambri has raised $50 million in equity, which is a relatively small amount for a battery manufacturer. Ambri has also gotten grants from the Office of Naval Research, and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. MIT campus research received a Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program grant to work on the Ambri tech early on.

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