Power Tool Batteries, the Gateway to Electric Vehicle Energy Storage

Imaraimage1Batteries for powertools and lawn equipment are increasingly looking like the gateway to electric vehicles for the energy-storage industry. Three-year-old battery startup Imara Corp. on Monday started selling its first product, battery cells for power tools and gardening equipment, about a year before it plans to introduce large-format batteries for electric vehicles.

The company claims that battery packs made from its cells — the one just launched for powertools is an 18650 cell, about the size of a AA battery — last longer than other batteries for the same applications. Using the batteries instead of gasoline in a typical 4-stroke lawnmower eliminates the emissions equivalent to 11 SUVs driving on the highway for an hour. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company is on schedule, given it had previously said it had planned to ship its first cells by the fourth quarter.

Imara, previously named Lion Cells, came out of stealth mode back in December with the ambitious target of reaching the production capacity to make 8 million cells by the end of this year. While it already has raised nearly $20 million in funding from Battery Ventures and Nth Power, the company told us in December that it’s seeking more money.

Imara is also one of many battery companies seeking stimulus funding. In April, it said it was seeking between $80 million and $100 million from the government to build a factory.

While Imara’s first product is for powertools, the company is one of a pack of lithium-ion companies going after the transportation market. A spokesperson said the company is working on large-format cells — for vehicles –scheduled to come out next year.

It’s not unusual for companies, especially young startups, aiming for the electric vehicle market to start with an already available industry like powertools. A123Systems and PowerGenix have taken this approach. Because power tools, like electric vehicles, require high amounts of power, the batteries that run them are more similar than those that run, say, cell phones.

As Josie pointed out in this GigaOM Pro article (subscription required), selling energy storage tech to markets like electronics, power tools and lawn equipment, can be a “stepping stone to business in the emerging vehicle” market.

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