Boston-Power Lands $55M Fourth Round To Fuel Production of Longer-Lasting Lithium-Ion Batteries For Laptops, Vehicles

1/14/09

Boston-Power has closed a $55 million fourth round of financing to fund its expansion—including ratcheting up production of its longer-lasting lithium-ion batteries for laptops—and to boost efforts to break into the promising market to supply batteries for e-bikes as well as hybrid and electric vehicles, the company revealed this morning. The financial jolt comes on the heels of the company’s major deal announced last month to supply its batteries to Hewlett-Packard for the laptop market.

In closing the major financing amid a recession, Westborough, MA-based Boston-Power has shown that investors remain hungry for deals involving environmentally friendly technologies. New investor Foundation Asset Management, of Stockholm, Sweden, led the Series D financing, which included investments from previous backers Oak Investment Partners, Venrock, GGV Capital, and Gabriel Venture Partners. This latest influx of capital brings Boston-Power’s total funding to $125 million.

“We are happy to invest in Boston-Power, a clean tech company with a next-generation technology,” Lars Wedenborn, CEO of Foundation Asset Management, said in a statement. “Together with its founder and CEO, management team and other owners, we aim to develop Boston-Power into a leading battery company.”

Boston-Power CEO Christina Lampe-Onnerud, a Swede who founded the company in 2005, told me yesterday that she was encouraged about closing the firm’s latest round during a downturn. “In tough times, we are announcing a large round of financing to fuel the successes of the last few years,” she said, noting that much of the new financing will support the firm’s manufacturing scale-up to support HP’s launch of Boston-Power’s Sonata batteries early this year. Boston-Power, which manufactures at plants in Hsinchu, Taiwan, and Shenzhen, China, is going to be the sole supplier of HP’s new “Enviro Series” batteries (HP’s own name for the Sonata units). (Wade wrote about the magnitude of Boston-Power’s deal with HP, the largest notebook PC provider in the world, in a post last month.)

The Sonata laptop batteries are designed to remain effective through 1,000 recharge cycles, compared with 300 recharges for existing lithium-ion cells, meaning that Boston-Power’s laptop batteries are likely to last more than three times as long as typical models and therefore reduce the waste that results from replacing batteries more frequently. (HP is expected to offer three-year warrantees on the Enviro batteries.) Boston-Power has also designed its batteries to recharge to 80-percent capacity in a half hour, while earlier-generation lithium-ion batteries take up to two hours to recharge to that level.

HP plans to market the Enviro/Sonata batteries, which are designed to fit into existing laptops, as replacements. Though the same size as existing laptop batteries, the Sonata uses half as many lithium-ion cells to improve overall energy capacity in each pack. And the firm’s batteries are wired to improve energy flow, which prevents imbalances that cause chemical buildups in past generations of lithium-ion cells and makes those batteries lose capacity.

Lampe-Onnerud also says that the new round of financing will enable her firm to move more quickly into the transportation market. In fact, Boston-Power has already made prototypes of batteries for vehicles, and Lampe-Onnerud says that her firm has been approached by undisclosed automotive companies about commercializing them. What caught those companies’ attention, she says, is her firm’s ability to make batteries with high energy density. Still, lithium-ion batteries for vehicles—like those under development at Watertown, MA-based A123 Systems—must deliver greater surges of power than cells used in laptops. Lampe-Onnerud declined to discuss how Boston-Power plans to address some of those technical challenges.

Yet Lampe-Onnerud hints that Boston-Power—which employs 60 people in Massachusetts and a total of 100 workers worldwide—may not have to develop all of that technology internally. She says that the new financing gives her firm the option to forge corporate partnerships and consider acquisitions.

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