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Peter Thiel, Khosla, Bill Gates back air energy storage startup LightSail

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A startup that makes compressed air energy storage technology called LightSail Energy, has raised a whopping $37.3 million series D round led by Peter Thiel, and also including existing investors Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures. LightSail Energy, based in Berkeley, Calif., has been in stealth for awhile, but the company makes a next-generation technology that compresses air in a tank and efficiently releases it on command, creating a sort of air-based battery for the power grid.

Compressed air is a decades-old technology which takes excess energy from a power plant or renewable energy and uses it to run air compressors, which pump air into tanks or underground caverns where it’s stored under pressure. When the air is released, it powers a turbine, creating electricity. There’s only a handful of compressed air energy storage projects in the world, including one in Alabama and one in Germany.

But over the past couple of years a couple starts have emerged that are creating a next-generation — more efficient — version of the this technology. LightSail Energy is one of these firms and uses a water spray in the air compression process. SustainX and General Compression, based in Massachusetts are two others.

SustainX has been planning on starting construction on a 1 MW compressed air energy storage project, likely at a coal plant, in conjunction with power company AES, its first customer. In late 2009, the Department of Energy awarded SustainX a $5.39 million grant to help it reach that commercialization goal.

General Compression is also working on its first project in Texas with partner and investor ConocoPhillips. General Compression raised a $54.5 Million series B in the Summer of 2011 from Northwater Capital Management, US Renewables Group, Duke Energy, and Serious Change.

According to this New York Times article, which cites Lux Research, the worldwide market for energy storage could be as large as $31.5 billion by 2017.

4 Responses to “Peter Thiel, Khosla, Bill Gates back air energy storage startup LightSail”

  1. If you check your history water injection was first used by Germany and then Britian and the USA to boast power output of piston engines during WW2. Later it was heavily used by the Unlimited Hydo boat racers who used ex WW2 figher engines. It is a well understood and evvective technology. Water injection increased the power by 10-20% in fighter planes and way more on the Unlimited Hydros.


    • Keef Wivaneff

      I call BULLSHIT on this one.
      Smells like another GREEN WIDGET SCAM!
      Of course we are all looking for renewable energy improvements but there is nothing new in this idea.
      Compressed air storage is inefficient, uneconomic and dangerous.
      Many companies have sprung up claiming to have solved the problems by using an adiabatic process.
      Nothing ever eventuates except that the company directors get to drive around in Ferraris for years spending investors and taxpayers money whilst delivering nothing but excuses.
      Warm water is not a rare commodity!
      If it was really that simple to generate more energy by the addition of a little hot water then you’d be on a winner.
      Why in the world do you need $37M ?
      You claim it is a low cost system.
      Why don’t you go ahead and build a few systems and SELL them?
      (Better mousetrap, beating a path to your door etc.)

      No, much more fun to be had from a GREEN WIDGET SCAM.
      Original investors (claim) to be putting in $37M and wait for the dummies to climb on board.
      Original investors take back their money (with interest) and leave the bag-holders to enjoy the “trough of disappointment”

      A hype cycle in Gartner’s interpretation comprises five phases:
      “Technology Trigger” — The first phase of a hype cycle is the “technology trigger” or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.”Peak of Inflated Expectations” — In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.”Trough of Disillusionment” — Technologies enter the “trough of disillusionment” because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.”Slope of Enlightenment” — Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the “slope of enlightenment” and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.”Plateau of Productivity” — A technology reaches the “plateau of productivity” as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.

      Of course in the case of GREEN SCAMS – there is never any plateau
      ……just a trough….with directors snouts deeply in it!

      Khosla Ventures makes its money by picking GREEN SCAMS, riding the HYPE CYCLE and pocketing the cash before the rest of the suckers wake up to the scam.
      There should be a law against it.

      “Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
      I’ve seen lots of funny men;
      Some will rob you with a six-gun,
      And some with a fountain pen.”I

      (Hat, knife and fork on standby)

  2. William Volk

    Best of Breed batteries have 90%+ efficiencies in charge/discharge. I can’t see this exceeding 60%, but it may not matter that much. The lifecycle should be excellent though.