Khosla Ventures Bets on Liquid Metal Battery’s Energy Storage Tech

5/30/12Follow @xconomy

“Cost-effective, reliable, grid-scale storage is one of the holy grails in cleantech,” says Khosla Ventures partner Andrew Chung. But now, Chung thinks there may be an answer—and the path runs through Cambridge, MA, startup Liquid Metal Battery.

That’s why Chung and Menlo Park, CA-based Khosla Ventures led the $15 million Series B investment in Liquid Metal Battery, joining return investors Bill Gates and the energy company Total.

“We’ve looked at everything under the sun in the storage area, both on the mechanical side and on the chemical side,” Chung says. “This is the one on the chemical side that’s most interesting to us.”

Grid-scale storage is technology used to hold large amounts of electricity for use in the electrical grid, in cases where electricity is produced intermittently or when production exceeds consumption. Many companies have attacked the problem by scaling up the battery technology that’s used in the consumer market, says Liquid Metal Battery CEO, Phil Giudice.

But Chung says that’s like “trying to put a round peg in a square hole,” and presents problems in cost, efficiency, reliability, and safety.

Rather than trying to stack millions of lithium ion batteries together, Liquid Metal Battery is developing batteries specifically for grid-scale storage using liquid metals. “We put an enormous amount of electricity in these liquid metals, then take that out when we return it back to grid,” Giudice says.

The technology is much hairier than that, of course. The story began about five years ago in the lab of MIT professor and Liquid Metal Battery chief scientist Donald Sadoway, based around the science of aluminum smelters. (Sadoway nabbed a research grant from Chung’s former firm, Lightspeed Venture Partners.)

“It’s about efficiency, but it’s really about cost effectiveness,” says Giudice, who joined the startup as CEO in November. He previously helped take EnerNOC public and worked as the Massachusetts undersecretary of energy and commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy Resources.

The Liquid Metal Battery technology is especially cheap to manufacture, as each layer of the battery arranges itself according to its density. That allows the batteries to be built in “relatively common industrial metalworking factories,” Giudice says.

“The design of the cells is very straightforward, whereas traditional batteries require more … Next Page »

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