ActaCell Charges Ahead With New Way to Make Batteries

A new $3 million NIST award could offer a significant boost for Austin, Tex.-based ActaCell, whose backers include, DFJ Mercury and Applied Ventures. The startup aims to scale up production of its novel nanocomposite material for lithium battery anodes by a factor of 1,000.

Latest Battery Startup Shutdown: Firefly Energy

Here’s the latest sign that the next-generation battery business is just really tough for startups: On Friday and over the weekend local Illinois media reported that Peoria, Illinois-based battery startup Firefly Energy has stopped operating. Specifically The Peoria Journal Star reported on Friday that Firefly Energy had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and that the city of Peoria and Peoria County plan to follow legal action to recover $6 million in government loans that they gave the startup in 2007 (the Associated Press also reported the story). On Saturday the Peoria Journal Star also reported that while Firefly Energy is clearly not operating anymore, there is some confusion about whether the company has officially filed for bankruptcy yet.
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Battery Startup Imara Shuts Down After Funding Troubles

Neil Maguire of battery developer Imara “is looking for a new career as Imara did not get the funding necessary to move forward.” That’s how the startup’s business development chief — known as @KoolJoules on Twitter — announced the venture’s shuttering to his connections on Twitter and LinkedIn late Monday. On the official Imara blog, Maguire wrote that after a year’s delay in scaling up operations, “Imara is out of funds and out of time…investors needed to cut their losses.”

Michael Kanellos over at Greentech Media followed up with Maguire, who painted a bleak picture for venture-backed startups that did not make the cut for government grants and which face tough competition from established players. “It certainly did not help that hundred[s] of millions in DOE stimulus funds went to two Korean companies and one French company, Saft,” Maguire told Greentech Media, adding, “Unless something radically changes, the battery business is for big players that want to create billion-dollar business units, not VC-backed startups.”
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Nielsen Preps ‘Internet Meters’ for Cross-Platform Measurement

Brian Fuhrer, Nielsen

Brain Fuhrer (The Nielson Company) on stage at NewTeeVee Live 2009 in San Francisco

Nielsen is taking steps to integrate its measurement of TV and online video viewing, telling clients that it will soon install Internet meters into Nielsen homes to come up with cross-platform metrics for what content consumers are viewing.

As part of a new initiative called “TVandPC,” Nielsen will install 7,500 of these meters in homes that participate in its National Television Panel. Once installed, the company hopes it will be able to create a combined ratings system for TV and online.

Nielsen has provided the ratings for TV programming that content providers use to sell ads with for years, but the proliferation of video viewership online has led many of its clients to seek a better way to measure total audience across the Internet and TV.

Concerns among television programmers and advertisers have only increased with the rapid growth of viewership on Hulu and other premium content sites. And measurement of video consumption across multiple platforms will be essential to the success of TV Everywhere-type initiatives, which seek to make premium broadcast and cable content available online.

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A123Systems Shares Jump 50% in Nasdaq Debut

A123Systems’ Nasdaq debut Thursday thoroughly justified the company’s confidence in its initial public offering, with the stock leaping more than 50 percent to close at $20.29 per share after pricing at $13.50 per share Wednesday. That price represented a hike from the already raised estimated range of between $10 and $11.50 per share Tuesday.

The successful IPO increases A123’s cachet and spells the go-ahead for its ambitious manufacturing plans. It also renews other cleantech companies’ hope that the public markets are once again open to them as a source of funding. After a much-lamented drought of cleantech IPOs, the industry is celebrating this day as a sign that investor appetite could be back.
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Power Tool Batteries, the Gateway to Electric Vehicle Energy Storage

Imaraimage1Batteries for powertools and lawn equipment are increasingly looking like the gateway to electric vehicles for the energy-storage industry. Three-year-old battery startup Imara Corp. on Monday started selling its first product, battery cells for power tools and gardening equipment, about a year before it plans to introduce large-format batteries for electric vehicles.
The company claims that battery packs made from its cells — the one just launched for powertools is an 18650 cell, about the size of a AA battery — last longer than other batteries for the same applications. Using the batteries instead of gasoline in a typical 4-stroke lawnmower eliminates the emissions equivalent to 11 SUVs driving on the highway for an hour. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company is on schedule, given it had previously said it had planned to ship its first cells by the fourth quarter.
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13 Battery Startups Hitting the Road With Lithium-ion

With billions of dollars in government funds coming down the pipeline for advanced batteries courtesy of the stimulus package, and the auto industry gearing up to make its first real go at marketing plug-in vehicles for the masses, the race to build lithium-ion batteries for vehicles has never been hotter.

Massive international battery makers may dominate the mobile device and laptop markets for lithium-ion batteries, but a growing number of companies — some founded just in the last year, others that have been around for over a decade — are hoping to carve out a piece of the battery vehicle market. They have their work cut out for them, however, as more established companies such as Sanyo, Hitachi (s hit) and NEC are eying the same prize.

As the money rolls out and competition heats up, here are 13 battery startups you should know about:
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Why Volkswagen Wants BYD in Its Battery Mix

When it comes to potential battery partners for plug-in vehicles, Volkswagen is now a triple-timer: The German automaker has a year-old partnership with Sanyo Electric to develop batteries for plug-in vehicles, and a three-month-old arrangement with Toshiba for an upcoming electric concept — and as of this week, it’s flirting with BYD Auto for a third battery deal. What did VW see in BYD that helped the China-based, Warren Buffett-backed company snag a tentative deal to supply lithium-ion battery technology for upcoming VW cars (the two companies have committed only to exploring options for collaboration)?

According to powertrain analyst Mike Omotoso with J.D. Power and Associates, BYD has a few things that U.S.-based battery startups like A123Systems, Sakti3, Imara and ActaCell simply can’t offer at this point: a major presence in China and significant R&D resources. Omotoso told us in an email today:

China is a very important market for VW (and all other major car manufacturers), so getting their foot in the door for the EV market is crucial. BYD also has a large research capability — they have 3,000 engineers in Shanghai and plan to employ 10,000 more engineers in Shenzhen. So VW can get a head start by using BYD’s engineers instead of starting from scratch themselves.

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What the Looming Lithium Squeeze Means for Electric Car Batteries

Piles of lithium carbonate-rich salt in Bolivia.

Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere — in your phone, laptop, and by this time next year, maybe your car. The technology is slated for GM’s (s GM) Chevy Volt, Toyota’s (s TMC) plug-in Prius, and electric versions of the Daimler Smart (s DAI) and BMW Mini (s BMW).

Until recently, lithium went primarily into ceramics and glass. Now batteries make up one-fifth of the world’s end-use market for the mineral — a share that will only grow if the auto industry goes where lithium-ion startups like ActaCell, A123 Systems and Imara are betting it will. But shortages could stop an emerging industry in its tracks — or dramatically reshape it — within a decade: Mitsubishi (s MMTOF) estimates that lithium demand will outstrip supply as early as 2015.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s mineral commodity specialist on lithium, Brian Jaskula, offers a more conservative estimate, forecasting that demand will begin to drive lithium prices up in the next 10 to 15 years. But the signs are clear: Lithium, which now costs less than a buck per kilogram, will not stay cheap for long. Read More about What the Looming Lithium Squeeze Means for Electric Car Batteries