Battery startup Seeo finds a backer in Samsung

Battery startup Seeo, which has developed a lithium ion battery that it says is safer to use than the standard ones currently on the market, will announce on Tuesday that it has raised another round of $17 million in funding, including from new investor Samsung Ventures. Korean electronics giant Samsung is one of the largest producers of batteries in the world, and the funding could not only help Seeo get closer to bringing its batteries to market, but the investment is also a vote of confidence in the early stage startup’s battery technology.

Seeo’s battery innovation largely involves improvements to the electrolyte, or the medium that shuttles lithium ions back and forth between the cathode and the anode to charge and discharge the battery. Traditional lithium-ion battery electrolytes are mostly made of liquid, while Seeo is using a solid dry polymer based electrolyte, which feels more like plastic to the touch. The polymer is non-flammable and when combined with using lithium foil as the anode, the battery can be light weight and also have a high energy density, or amount of energy that can be stored per a given weight.

A Seeo battery cell and module
A Seeo battery cell and module

Seeo’s CEO Hal Zarem told me in an interview that Seeo has started working on a second generation battery that combines these previous innovations with a cathode material that has a higher energy capacity, which will give the new battery a higher energy density than Seeo’s previous batteries. The new financing, which also includes previous investors Khosla Ventures and GSR Ventures, will help Seeo develop these next generation batteries, which will have an energy density of 400 Wh/kg (the current batteries has 300 Wh/kg energy density).

Seeo makes pilot batteries on its line in Hayward, California, and the company has done a pilot project with solar installer SunEdison, and a demo with an electric car company. Over the last year Seeo has expanded its pilot line into the building next door in Hayward.

Back in 2013, Seeo was planning on raising financing so it could build a larger factory beyond its Hayward pilot line. But Zarem told me Seeo now plans to commercialize its technology working with partners instead of by building its own scaled up commercial factory. This $17 million in funding is Seeo’s largest round to date.

Seeo isn’t the only one working on solid electrolytes for batteries. It’s actually a growing field for innovation, and startups like Sakti3, and Imprint Energy are working on this technology, as are researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.