Battery research and the road to commercialization

The New York Times reports on issues related to renewable energy integration and the sudden need for better energy storage. As I’ve looked out at the battery startup space, it’s often struck me how far from commercialization a lot of these projects are and how capital intensive commercialization will be. The Times quotes MIT’s Donald Sadoway on the topic:

“In the last 10 to 15 years, the total amount of money that goes into really cutting-edge energy-related research is far too low,” said Donald Sadoway, a professor of materials chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “That means you don’t have a large enough community of scientists working on the problem.”

The reality is that battery technology is still at the laboratory R&D stage and what is needed is a couple decades of committed basic research. Unfortunately solar and wind power will ramp in the next ten years as we approach 2020 grid parity. Battery tech finds itself in a strange place because commercialization costs are high and despite the massive market opportunity of a battery breakthrough, the science risk is often just too high for many VCs. What’s needed? A major government commitment 10X ARPA-E. I’m sure Congress will get to that….once, you know, it’s done with other priorities like shutting down the government.