Vinod Khosla, one of Silicon Valley’s biggest cleantech backers and the founder of Sun Microsystems, may be keeping an eye on the hype about lithium-ion batteries, but the venture capitalist is still excited about one of his earlier lithium battery plays: Seeo. The stealthy startup, which is developing a nano-structured lithium-polymer battery, has raised more than $8.6 million in new funding, according to regulatory filings picked up by peHUB this morning, and investors in the round include Khosla’s firm, Khosla Ventures.
Seeo, based in Berkeley, Calif., has now raised a total of more than $10.6 million for its solid-state battery, which is based on a solid polymer electrolyte that the founders developed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. The material, which Seeo began licensing from the lab in 2007, allows for a more stable battery with higher energy density and none of the flammable liquid electrolytes that present a safety risk in conventional lithium-ion batteries.
According to founder and technology director Mohit Singh, the company’s batteries can operate at a much higher temperature than competing devices, which means it can be used in rugged, outdoor applications — attached to a solar system, for example. The Berkeley Lab also anticipates applications for technology like Seeo’s in electric vehicles, and says the startup’s batteries are on track to achieve the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium’s 5,000-cycle goal for plug-in vehicle batteries.
Seeo remains very tight-lipped about its technology, strategy and commercialization plans. But when I spoke with some of the startup’s team this week at IBM’s Almaden Institute, they shared Khosla’s take that lithium-ion batteries don’t represent a silver bullet for all energy storage challenges. And materials development director Hany Eitouni said he agreed with Ford’s Ted Miller, who spoke at the event and showed a slide depicting “evolution” of lithium-ion batteries through around 2017 — and then a “revolutionary technology change” after that. Will we really see such a shift in that time frame? We’ll have to, Eitouni said.
In the meantime, the company (and Khosla, through his investments) is jockeying to snag a piece of an increasingly competitive and growing market. Despite the hype, Khosla has said, “Lithium-ion markets are here today. We’re investing because there are good markets.”