State and federal grants help Solid Power pursue battery innovation goals

By: David Wagman Wednesday January 22, 2014 0 comments Tags: Conrad Stoldt, Douglas Campbell, Ken Lund, Louisville, OEDIT, Se-Hee Lee, Solid Power

By David Wagman


LOUISVILLE -- A $250,000 grant that Solid Power LLC of Louisville won in December from the state's Advanced Industries Accelerator Act Program will help the startup company pursue a three-year plan to take its innovative battery technology from laboratory test bench to commercial prototype.

The state grant was created as part of HB1, which became law during the 2013 legislative session. Altogether, more than $2.9 million was awarded during the first round of grant awards in December.

The program is intended to announce new grant awardees every 90 days in an effort to get money quickly to young companies that are pursuing technology innovations in at least one of seven sectors, says Ken Lund, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Those sectors are advanced manufacturing, electronics, biosciences, infrastructure engineering, technology and information, aerospace, and energy and natural resources.

Solid Power is developing a high-energy, low-cost rechargeable battery for use in the aerospace industry, in electric vehicles and for utility grid storage and consumer electronics. The company licensed the technology, which stemmed from research done by University of Colorado-Boulder [] mechanical engineering professors Se-Hee Lee and Conrad Stoldt.

Solid Power has financial support from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency.

"We are not fundraising in the private investment community" at present, says Douglas Campbell, president and CEO. "We feel we need to be more mature" before pursuing non-public sources of money.

Early-stage investors from the private sector may be hard to come by anyway, Campbell says. Battery technology investment overheated in recent years as several high-profile innovators overpromised what they could deliver and when.

"The battery community, especially startups, was too aggressive in performance claims," he said, noting that technology developers in some cases failed to properly gauge investment and commercial risks and how to bring their technology to market.

"We've placed an emphasis on non-dilutive government money" that doesn't require giving up an equity stake, Campbell said.

Campbell joined Solid Power in 2012 and is executing a three-year plan to scale up the battery and bring it to market. He said the next 12 months will see the company build a prototype with around 1 amp-hours of energy, roughly the size of a cell phone battery.

Big milestone

Reaching that milestone will demonstrate the company can hit performance goals at scale, Campbell said, adding that the next step will be to make a 10 amp-hour prototype. By the third year, the company plans to produce battery packs using modules strung together that are capable of producing around 500 watt-hours of electricity.

"At that scale, it looks something like an electric vehicle battery," Campbell said.

That's important because one market for Solid Power's battery is electric vehicles. Although several manufacturers already have introduced electric vehicles, the market is likely to remain small until "range anxiety" (the distance traveled between recharges) and battery cost are addressed, Campbell said.

Consumers, he said, want electric vehicles to travel a long distance between recharges, and that ability is a function of the battery and its basic chemistry.

Chemistry was the focus of CU professors Lee and Stoldt, who developed a low-cost, high-energy solid-state battery that can be recharged. The technology is the next step beyond lithium-ion batteries that currently enjoy widespread use in laptop computers, cell phones and electric vehicles.

Solid Power's technology is a solid-state battery with improved energy density and safety over conventional lithium-ion batteries. Its liquid-free cells use non-flammable and non-volatile materials. This results in greater stability in the event of a collision or elevated temperature.

What's more, the use of low-cost, abundant materials is expected to lead to lower material costs. Taken together, these attributes promise a battery that offers high energy and low-cost, thus addressing the two big challenges that face electric vehicle market development, Campbell said.

Last August, Solid Power received $3.5 million from the U.S. Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program. The grant was one of 22 projects across the country to receive a total of $36 million from ARPA-E's Robust Affordable Next Generation Energy Storage Systems (RANGE) initiative.

The initiative aims to accelerate electric vehicle adoption by improving driving range and reliability, and by providing low-cost, low-carbon alternatives to today's vehicles.

The federal money came with strings attached, including a cost-match requirement. The Colorado Advanced Industries grant will enable the company to meet that requirement and also pursue patents and equipment acquisition.

"We'd be hard-pressed to do all that with just ARPA-E money," Campbell said.
David Wagman

About the Author: David Wagman

David Wagman is a Denver-based analyst and journalist who has covered most aspects of the electric power and oil-and-gas industries, and has written broadly on topics that range from international trade to commercial real estate to homeland protection in a career that spans more than 20 years.