Aquion Energy, the energy storage startup that makes cheap grid batteries out of sodium and water, has enjoyed early support from investors. It's latest financing round, which will provide critical funds to help the company bridge the gap between concept and commercialization, was no different.
The company said today it raised $55 million—$20 million more than the level announced in April 2013—from early supporters Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Foundation Capital. Several new investors also participated including Bill Gates, Yung's Enterprise, Nick and Joby Pritzker through their family's firm Tao Invest, Bright Capital and Gentry Venture Partners.
Last year, the company announced it would locate its first factory in a former Sony plant in southwestern Pennsylvania and the facility would begin manufacturing its sodium-ion batteries and energy storage systems in 2013.
Aquion now says it will begin shipping production units to customers in the first half of 2014. The initial manufacturing line is capable of producing more than 200 megawatt hours per year when operating at full capacity. The 350,000 square-foot factory is sized for five manufacturing lines, according to Aquion.
Aquion grew out of technology developed by company founder Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. His goal was to find basic, abundant and benign materials to make cheap, modular batteries that could be used to store energy and help bring more renewable energy onto the power grid.
Whitacre's battery couples a carbon anode with a sodium-based (manganese oxide) cathode. Whitacre explained in 2011 to SmartPlanet that he used cheap materials like carbon, manganese, water and various kinds of cheap plastics to keep costs low. He even found way to reconfigure carbon, so it can be taken from corn syrup or other forms of carbon. He also focused on benign materials. Unlike other batteries that use solvent-based electrolytes, Whitacre's version uses water-based electrolytes to move ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging.
He spent two years before figuring out the ideal chemistry for non-toxic batteries. By 2009, Whitacre had spun his tech into startup 44 Tech—a name that would change the following year to Aquion Energy.