The Valley’s next big battery play: QuantumScape

Here’s a potentially breakthrough, undercover battery startup that you’ll be hearing a lot more about down the road: QuantumScape. The company is an early stage battery startup that is commercializing technology from Stanford University, and which was founded, and is being led by Infinera co-founder and CEO Jagdeep Singh, and backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Khosla Ventures.

For those of you that aren’t networking geeks, Infinera is a decade-old publicly-traded optical networking gear company that was funded by Valley VCs. Kleiner Perkins backed the company back in the day, as did networking company Juniper Networks, which was one of Vinod Khosla’s big investments when he was a Partner at Kleiner Perkins.

Singh is a longtime entrepreneur and this time around he’s tackling energy storage. Licensing technology from Stanford University, the stealth company is trying to create batteries that have the density of fossil fuels, and could one day change the economics of electric cars and grid storage. The company’s technology uses a new method for stacking trace amounts of materials together, which can lead to high energy and power densities, and also higher cycle life than standard lithium ion batteries. Achieving these things together is the holy grail for batteries, as battery expert Venkat Srinivasan wrote for us earlier this year.

I heard, but have not confirmed, that Kleiner’s John Doerr and Khosla’s Vinod Khosla are taking Board seats at QuantumScape, but I know the firms invested in the startup. Khosla Ventures already lists QuantumScape on its website as an investment. QuantumScape is in stealth and the company won’t comment on any of this.

I first discovered the company when I was at the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E event earlier this year. The ARPA-E program — which gives small grants to early stage “experiments — gave Stanford a grant for an “All Electron Battery” project which the ARPA-E describes as “a completely new class of electrical energy storage devices for electric vehicles that has the potential to provide ultra-high energy and power densities, while enabling extremely high cycle life.” The tech is supposed to be able to deliver a “quantum leap forward in energy storage,” says the ARPA-E site — hence the startup name.

The ARPA-E site digs into the tech a little deeper and writes:

This novel battery stores energy by moving electrons, rather than ions, and uses electron/hole redox instead of capacitive polarization of a double-layer. This technology uses a novel architecture that has potential for very high energy density because it decouples the two functions of capacitors: charge separation and breakdown strength. If successful, this project will develop a completely new paradigm in energy storage for electric vehicles that could revolutionize the electric vehicle industry.

According to this Stanford website the All-Electron Battery “stores energy in charge separation, using only electrons, which are lighter, and therefore faster, than the ion charge carriers typical of conventional batteries.” The Stanford team has supposedly been thinking about military applications, to give soldiers longer, lighter batteries for their gear.

Expect to hear a lot more from this company this year.