Lithium-Ion Battery Startup ActaCell Gains Partners, Funds

Lithium-ion battery startup ActaCell, which has already raised funds from such high-profile groups as (s goog), DFJ Mercury and Applied Ventures (Applied Materials’ venture arm), is out touting over $3 million in newly acquired funding Wednesday morning. Part of that is from a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the other is a $179,000 contract with the United States Advanced Battery Consortium, a research group created by Chrysler, Ford (f f), and General Motors.

For a three-year-old company, which is working to commercialize low-cost, high-power, lithium-ion cell materials, that’s a rock star list of well-known supporters stretching from the world’s largest search engine to two name brand venture capital firms to the biggest U.S. auto makers, to the U.S. government. To date, ActaCell has raised close to $7 million in funding.

ActaCell was actually awarded the $3 million NIST grant two weeks ago, and the funding was one of nine grants given out under a federal program to support innovative manufacturing technologies. As Josie put it recently, innovation in manufacturing can be just as important as novel designs or materials, particularly when it comes to energy storage and clean power.

ActaCell’s technology is based on research out of the Material Science and Engineering labs of professor Arumugam Manthiram at the University of Texas at Austin. The startup develops materials for battery anodes (which draws in lithium ions when a battery recharges) and cathodes (which draws out current), and is also conducting research on battery cell and pack designs, and has built a module for demonstration in hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicle applications.

ActaCell aims to use the NIST funds to scale up production of its nanocomposite material for lithium battery anodes by a factor of 1,000. Eventually, according to ActaCell’s project description, this could enable “safe, powerful and economical batteries for electric vehicles and other demanding applications.” While ActaCell claims its anode material is “in principle, significantly less expensive to produce” than state-of-the-art alternatives, the company is still working with small lab-scale batches. “To be commercially viable,” the company says it needs to bring production up to 5-kilogram batches, from five grams today.

To scale up, ActaCell plans to develop a low-cost manufacturing process involving something called “reactive high energy milling” — a technique that has yet to be applied at commercial scale in the lithium battery industry. According to the NIST project description, “The scale-up of this synthesis process will be a key innovation not only in the lithium-ion battery industry, but also as a low-cost manufacturing technique for other related materials.”

In terms of the contract with big autos USABC, ActaCell says it will do a 16-month-long assessment of how its cells perform in hybrid electric vehicles. According to this latest release, ActaCell will first focus on medium-to-heavy duty hybrid trucks for its battery tech.

Image courtesy of ActaCell

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