Battery Startup Lion Cells Starts Talking, Becomes "Imara"

imaralogoLion Cells, a Menlo Park-based startup backed by Battery Ventures and Nth Power, joined the energy-storage fray yesterday, emerging from two years of stealth with a new name — Imara Corp. — and a plan to ship its lithium-ion batteries by the fourth quarter of 2009.

While other lithium-ion startups, such as A123Systems, ActaCell, and Boston Power, have focused on storing energy for vehicles, laptops and electric grids, Imara plans to start with lower-hanging fruit — small-format batteries for power tools and outdoor equipment.

The company plans to reach annual production capacity of at least 8 million cells by the end of next year, with electrode manufacturing facilities in Menlo Park, Calif., and assembly for small-format batteries in Asia. According to Imara’s business development chief Neil Maguire, three contractors based in Asia are under consideration for the assembly deal.

Maguire told us today that while the Series B financing closed in January of this year will see Imara through the ramping-up of its production capacity, the company plans to seek another $20 million or more during the first half of 2009. Eventually the company will produce large-format batteries for vehicles and power grids.

Cleantech for lawnmowers may not be glamorous, but it does have regulations working in its favor. Small spark-ignition engines have tighter exhaust emissions standards coming into effect in 2011 and 2012 that could push garden equipment manufacturers toward battery technology. Imara, which has raised $20 million in venture capital and licenses its technology from SRI International, estimates that using a battery-powered lawnmower instead of a gasoline-powered mower for one hour cuts emissions equivalent to 11 hours of highway driving for an SUV.

Power tools are not immune to recession. Maguire said the sector has been hit hard by the fall in housing starts, and emphasized the company’s technology for high-power applications. While the company has not applied for government aid, Maguire said Imara is interested in Department of Energy and Defense Department grants and loan guarantees.

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