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Battery startups join forces: Contour acquires ActaCell

Innovation in battery manufacturing tends to take a really long time and can be pretty difficult. For startups, is there safety in numbers? Contour Energy Systems, which makes fluorine-based battery technology has acquired ActaCell, a lithium ion battery technology developer in Austin, Texas.

The companies actually called the move “a merger” in the press release, but the first thing you learn as a business reporter is that there are no mergers. Contour Energy Systems has raised a lot more money than ActaCell, and ActaCell is becoming a subsidiary of Contour, so I think it’s safe to call it an acquisition. The companies didn’t release terms of the deal.

I haven’t heard much about ActaCell in a couple years. The company was founded in 2007 and managed to raise a $5.8 million Series A round from well known investors including DFJ Mercury,’s RechargeIT program, Applied Ventures (the VC arm of Applied Materials), and Good Energies. That was back when Google was just starting to experiment with investing in some cleantech startups, and nowadays it has largely moved away from this strategy.

ActaCell also raised a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Technology Innovation Program. According to SEC filings, ActaCell hasn’t raised any more funding since then.

ActaCell has been working on commercializing low-cost, high-power lithium-ion battery materials based on tech from professor Arumugam Manthiram at the University of Texas at Austin. The company holds exclusive patents for making a cathode from manganese spinel, and an anode from a “high energy nanocomposite alloy.”

Contour Energy Systems, on the other hand, closed a $20 million series C round back in October 2011 and had raised $30 million before that. Contour makes battery technology using the element fluorine, which is volatile but which could deliver longer lasting, higher power batteries for devices spanning from smart meters to pacemakers, and one day electric vehicles and laptops.

Contour says Actacell’s battery tech will allow it to enter new markets and provide new products. ActaCell says in the release that it will be able to speed up its technology to a commercial phase more quickly in partnership with Contour.

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