Khosla joins Bill Gates & Total to back Liquid Metal Battery

Liquid Metal Battery, a startup developing a battery for the power grid that already counted Bill Gates and oil giant Total as an investor, has now brought on another high profile backer: Khosla Ventures. The startup, which is the brainchild of MIT Professor Donald Sadoway and is based in Cambridge, plans to announce on Thursday that it has raised a Series B round of $15 million led by Khosla Ventures.

Liquid Metal Battery is developing a battery for the power grid using molten salt sandwiched between two layers of liquid metal. The battery is still at least two years from commercialization, and the team has built a 16-inch prototype, though they might later scale that up to 36 inches. The company is betting that a battery based on liquid metal electrodes will be stable, scalable, and low cost enough that it could revolutionize grid storage.

Right now the grid has very little energy storage and power plants are basically producing the exact amount of energy that buildings and systems are consuming in real time. That makes the grid inefficient and also costly, and in addition the lack of energy storage is a barrier when it comes to adding less reliable clean power sources like wind and solar (the sun only shines and the wind only blows at certain times).

Gates originally learned about Liquid Metal Battery when he took Sadoway’s class via MIT’s online open-course program. Gates took Sadoway’s 34-lecture series on batteries and contacted Sadoway by email to meet with him and learn more. Gates is also a limited partner in Khosla Venture’s funds. In addition to the group of investors, the liquid metal battery project received a $6.9 million grant from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program.

The bulk of the development work left to do at Liquid Metal Battery will be focused on getting the cost of the battery down and figuring out the optimal size and shape. The company will also likely need more money down the road when it wants to start commercially producing the battery.