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Aquion Energy scales up edible battery tech with new factory

Posting in Energy
Aquion Energy, the energy storage startup that makes cheap grid batteries out of sodium and water, will locate its first factory in a former Sony plant in southwestern Pennsylvania. Aquion said in an announcement today the factory will begin manufacturing its sodium-ion batteries and energy storage systems in 2013.

The company says it will lease space within a large existing facility from the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania and immediately begin to build out the factory infrastructure. Aquion expects to create more than 400 high-tech manufacturing jobs by the end of 2015.

Aquion has enjoyed early support from high-profile investor Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and the Department of Energy, which awarded the startup a $5 million stimulus grant several years ago. It has managed to attract other venture capital as well. Last September, Aquion Energy raised $30 million in a venture financing round led by Foundation Capital to enable the startup to build a high-volume factory capable of producing its cheap, nontoxic modular batteries on a commercial scale.

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.

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.

Whitacre's battery couples a carbon anode with a sodium-based (manganese oxide) cathode. Whitacre explained last year 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.

Aquion isn't the only company promoting its energy storage tech. The market is teeming with companies competing over VC funds in hopes of bringing their tech out of the lab and onto a factory floor for commercial-scale production. And as I've noted before, it's a market that is expected to grow. A report released by Pike Research last summer predicted a total worldwide investment of more than $122 billion in energy storage projects between 2011 and 2021.

Photo: Flickr user BFS, CC 2.0

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— By on February 21, 2012, 2:00 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure