Seven-year-old lithium ion battery startup Leyden Energy is in the process of selling off some patents and equipment. Is the company planning on shutting down? Calls and emails to the company haven’t been returned.
According to Bloomberg, battery company A123 Systems — which was bought by Chinese giant Wanxiang in 2012 — acquired more than 20 patents from Leyden, and took on some of Leyden’s employees last month. An A123 exec tells Bloomberg that they paid “fair market value” for the battery tech and they plan on using it for electric cars.
And on Wednesday, Leyden Energy kicked off an auction to sell off some of its battery equipment via Silicon Valley Disposition, a firm that helps companies sell off their assets. Listed equipment includes battery testing and manufacturing gear. Leyden Energy is offering a buyer the opportunity to purchase all of the equipment for $800,000.
Leyden Energy was founded in 2007 (formerly called Mobius Power) and the company used a patent acquired from chemical giant Dupont, as well as an early funding round of $4.5 million, to build a next-generation lithium ion battery. Early investors included Walden International, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Sigma Partners.
A battery has a positive and a negative electrode and an electrolyte in between, which is the substance through which electrons transfer back and forth while the battery charges and discharges. Leyden’s battery made some breakthroughs around the electrolyte part of the battery, and it also developed a new type of silicon anode, which boosted the energy density of the battery. While standard lithium-ion batteries commonly use a salt-based solvent within the electrolyte that starts degrading at a temperature of between 70 to 80 degrees Celsius, Leyden used a salt-solvent in its electrolyte that doesn’t degrade until temperatures of 300 degrees Celsius.
Back in 2011 Leyden Energy launched a lithium ion battery for laptops that it said lasted at least three years before degrading, and it came with a two-year warranty. The battery was more expensive than a standard lithium ion battery for laptops. Soon after that launch, Leyden said it was also looking to make batteries for electric bicycles and maybe some day electric cars. Around they raised another round of $20 million, led by NEA, to expand production.
Back in 2010, the company also received a $2.9 million grant from the California Energy Commission to build a manufacturing line in the state with Green Vehicles to produce 10 battery packs per month. That same year they also got a $117,733 grant from the United States Advanced Battery Consortium to develop cells for electric vehicles.
But by the end of 2012, U.S. battery companies selling to electric car makers faced hard times. The market for electric vehicles just moved a lot slower than some had expected. A123 Systems went bankrupt around this time, as did Ener1.
Leyden decided to tweak its plans to focus more on the battery tablet market as well as providing batteries for gasoline cars with start-stop technology. To me it seemed like their original laptop battery just didn’t offer enough value for the added price, and the electric car battery market was just another hard one to tackle.
Investors, as well as the government, were still willing to fund them with their new plan. In early 2013, they closed on another $10 million from venture capitalists. Leyden also raised a $2.28 million grant from the United States Advanced Battery Consortium and the Department of Energy to develop the start-stop vehicle battery. All in all, Leyden raised at least $48 million since it was founded.
Making batteries as a startup is hard. Particularly a startup backed by venture capitalists that are used to getting quick returns on Internet companies. Battery breakthroughs take time, and breaking into the commercial market is tough.
Like I said, I’m not sure if Leyden is done, or just significantly retrenching. Perhaps they are becoming a much smaller company focused on projects and research. They were recently named as one of six companies working on a 3M-led electric car battery project that got a collective $3 million from the Department of Energy.
We’ll update this when we know more.