Earlier this year, the University of Michigan traction battery spinoff Sakti3, inc. announced $7 million in second round of venture funding led by capital firm Beringea, in addition to Khosla. Now G.M. Ventures has invested $3.2 Million in the company. Vloet/University of Michigan Professor Ann Marie Sastry of the University of Michigan is chief executive of Sakti3.
Sakti3 is an Ann Arbor Michigan-based lithium-ion battery developer, working on new technology the company says can give electric cars greater range. Third generation batteries are primarily concerned with achieving a sharp improvement in energy density and therefore range.
Although it is popularly taught that they are at least ten years away in the form of lithium sulfur or lithium air from Oxis Energy, PolyPlus Battery Company and others, a Sion Energy lithium sulfur battery already powers the pure electric Solar Impulse plane and the military is using them. However, none of these are solid state.
GM said the new Sakti3 batteries could eventually end up in the company's cars. Solid-state batteries are the focus that may offer higher energy density, lower cost and smaller size than conventional lithium-ion batteries. Although truly solid state, large lithium batteries were demonstrated a long time ago, they have never been commercialised on a major scale due to perceived poor performance in some respects.
So called lithium polymer assembly is increasingly adopted in land, sea and airborne electric vehicles, as shown in our free White Paper "Who is Winning in Traction Batteries and Why" Car Traction Batteries - the New Gold Rush 2010-2020 and Electric Vehicles 2010-2020 but this is a wet assembly that is highly unlikely to leak, not a solid state battery.
"The technology that Sakti3 is working on is very innovative," Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures, said in an interview. "It's quite different from standard electro-chemical cells, and it's a technology not in the marketplace today. It has the potential of being a real game changer going forward."
He said GM Ventures saw synergy between Sakti3's technology and the carmaker's future battery needs. "All the investments we make are related to our core business, and our real intent is that this investment will help lead us to the next plateau in batteries," he said. "Obviously, we'd like to be the first to use that technology, but it could move on to broader applications within the automotive industry."
James Bell, an executive market analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said that GM might see long-term investments in companies like Sakti3 as part of a broad effort to "regain the technological leadership role the company had in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Investments like this play nicely in that space." He also said that $3.2 million "is a very small investment for G.M., which shouldn't cause a backlash about the partially government-owned company misusing public funds. It's smart dollars."
This is the second such investment by the new GM subsidiary.
No commercialisation date yet
She would not say when Sakti3 batteries might be commercialized. She also said some technical barriers must be overcome before the batteries can be marketed. Dr. Sastry said the company, which has now raised about $16 million, had built prototypes of its battery cells and would deliver them to customers later this year.
GM had been a sponsor of Dr. Sastry's university lab work in battery research, and the State of Michigan consulted with her on battery technology. Under Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Michigan has led an aggressive investment program to ensure that battery makers locate in the state.
Sakti3 is one of several companies — including Dow Chemical, General Motors and Ford — that have established battery-making operations in Michigan, a state that has bent over background to create a hospitable environment for battery companies. Last year, Governor Jennifer Granholm pushed through $300 million in tax credits for these companies, hoping to lure more to the region to compensate for the demise of the automotive industry in the Detroit Metro area. So far, it looks like her plan to turn Michigan into the lithium-ion capital of the U.S. is headed in the right direction.
In an interview, Governor Granholm said Michigan had invested several million dollars in Sakti3. She called Dr. Sastry "a visionary who can make ideas happen. Academics often get locked in their ivory towers, but Ann Marie's work with Sakti3 is about not only thinking, but doing."
A new generation
David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research and a former University of Michigan professor, remarked that Sakti3's work was "a step beyond the current battery technology. It's like the transition from the vacuum tube to the transistor, promising a dramatic performance increase. GM Ventures wants to put its money where a particular technology can have a downstream impact and provide a competitive advantage."
Dr. Sastry also announced a $1 million investment by the venture arm of the$100 billion Japanese trading company Itochu Technology. "This is our first international investment, and it has the potential of connecting us to Asian consumer electronics markets," she said. Itochu has recently invested in the EnerDel Second generation lithium traction battery business and it has other electric vehicle interests including the Think pure electric car. With this investment, G.M. and Itochu become minority stakeholders in the company.
So what is it?
Dr. Sastry says the new batteries, which replace the standard liquid electrolyte and electrodes with solids, have the potential of doubling energy density, enabling smaller and more powerful packs that offer electric cars greater range. "The race is on in advanced battery development, with the aim of quickly riding down the cost curve," she said. "Who can get advanced batteries to market profitably? We have a technology that gives us optimism that we can make cost-effective battery cells."
Several companies are working on solid state lithium traction batteries. For example, Planar Energy devices, a spinoff from Oak Ridge Tennessee National Laboratory, has successfully sold small laminar batteries used in electronics for uninterruptible power supplies etc and it is now preparing traction batteries for sale. It says, "Planar Energy has developed a game-changing technology for solid state batteries for electronics and automotive applications. Lithium ion battery technology has hit a wall - batteries need substantial cost reductions to be viable for energy demanding applications."
It claims that Planar's technology is superior to conventional wet Li-Ion at less than half the cost per kWh, with three times the energy density. Solid state batteries replace the plastics, binders, powders and liquids of Li-Ion batteries with durable, nanostructured films.
Planar Energy Devices says that the fundamental challenge of solid state batteries is that current fabrication methods do not scale to large format batteries because of the cost of vacuum deposition. Planar has developed an alternative, game changing deposition process and has demonstrated the ability to make nanostructured electrolyte and electrode materials with superior chemistries using this process.
Sakt3 seems to be in this space but it keeps its inventions secret for now. Previous reports about Sakti3's technology pointed to its replacement of carbon electrode material in its lithium-ion models — a shift that adds mass to rechargeable batteries so that they do not degrade as fast. Those wishing to learn more could start with these Sakti3 patents:
- 1. 20100138072 CONTROL OF CELLS, MODULES AND A PACK COMPRISED OF HYBRIDIZED ELECTROCHEMISTRIES 06-03-2010
- 2. 20100136245 METHOD FOR MANUFACTURE AND STRUCTURE OF MULTIPLE ELECTROCHEMISTRIES AND ENERGY GATHERING COMPONENTS WITHIN A UNIFIED STRUCTURE 06-03-2010
- 3. 20100035152 ELECTROCHEMICAL CELL INCLUDING FUNCTIONALLY GRADED AND ARCHITECTURED COMPONENTS AND METHODS 02-11-2010
- 4. 20090326696 COMPUTATIONAL METHOD FOR DESIGN AND MANUFACTURE OF ELECTROCHEMICAL SYSTEMS 12-31-2009
- 5. 20090325063 METHOD FOR HIGH VOLUME MANUFACTURE OF ELECTROCHEMICAL CELLS USING PHYSICAL VAPOR DEPOSITION 12-31-2009
Sakti3 also plans to patent a new manufacturing process that limits material use and waste.
For more attend: Future of Electric Vehicles which uniquely covers the whole electric vehicle market - land, sea, air whether hybrid or pure EV - with emphasis on future breakthroughs.
Also read: Electric Vehicles in East Asia 2011-2021.