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Lithium-ion batteries found in consumer electronics and the latest electric vehicles (Tesla’s Roadster and GM’s Volt) have a couple of major hurdles: They can be flammable and unstable, and the higher the energy density, the more volatile the technology. That’s the problem that Mohit Singh, founder and director of technology at lithium polymer battery maker Seeo, set out to solve when he founded his startup 18 months ago. In a rare appearance at an energy storage conference at UC Berkeley on Wednesday, Singh described how his Berkeley, Calif.-based startup, which reportedly raised around $2 million in funding from investors including Khosla Venures, has developed a nano-structured solid-state battery based on a polymer electrolyte that he says is more stable, safer, and has a higher energy density than current lithium-ion batteries on the market.
Why is that ground-breaking? For those who don’t remember high school chemistry, the electrolyte is the substance that sits between the anode and the cathode in a traditional battery and conducts electricity. As Singh says, in lithium-ion batteries the traditionally liquid electrolyte has been the “weak link,” and is the cause of much of the safety concerns, including exploding batteries and laptops catching on fire. By using a more stable solid-state polymer for an electrolyte, Singh says he cannot only make the battery more stable, but he can also raise the energy density considerably.
Singh, who developed the nano-structured polymer electrolyte as a post-doctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, says Seeo’s battery can deliver 300 watt hours per kilogram, compared with traditional lithium-ion batteries that normally operate with less than 200 watt hours per kilogram. In addition, Seeo’s battery can operate at a much higher temperature compared with standard lithium-ion batteries — which means it can be used in more rugged, outdoor applications, like attached to a solar system. Seeo is still early stage, but is looking to move closer to production, possibly with stimulus funds for advanced batteries. Singh called the funds from the stimulus package “not entirely useless.” For Seeo, Singh said, the biggest hurdles have to do with the fact that the most advanced battery technology now on the market is not being developed in the U.S., but in Asia, which makes it difficult to obtain the latest devices and parts. Well, perhaps one day Seeo can help change that paradigm.