Last week’s post, THE APPLE WATCH: A Roadblock to Its Future, produced a comment on LinkedIn from a reader regarding the time it’s taking to commercialize our 3D Silicon™ Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery. It read, in part, “You guys have been in business since 2007 so where is it, bring it on.”
It’s a fair question, but one without a short or simple answer. So I’m going to devote several posts to it. First, by examining advanced battery development and commercialization over the past quarter-century. Second, by examining other industries that have been transformed through photolithographic technology and wafer production. And, finally, by describing our path and timeline from conception through development to commercialization.
The last commercialization of an advanced rechargeable battery technology—i.e., one that significantly increased energy density over its predecessor—was the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. In 1979, John Goodenough made a discovery that paved the way for its development. Sony, which had launched its battery unit in 1975, began developing a lithium-ion rechargeable battery shortly thereafter, and reached commercialization in 1991. Therefore, 12 years is the present benchmark for a new, advanced battery to progress from discovery through development to commercialization.
But why has there been no significant new battery commercialized since 1991? A recent article by Richard Martin in MIT Technology Review, “Why We Still Don’t Have Better Batteries,” presents one explanation: Startups with novel chemistries tend to falter before they reach full production. The article includes several supporting points, including:
In terms of moving from an idea to a product, it’s hard for batteries, because when you improve one aspect, you compromise other aspects.
According to a recent analysis of more than $4 billion in investments in energy storage by Lux Research, startups developing “next-generation” batteries averaged just $40 million in funding over eight years.
It will cost you $500 million to set up a small manufacturing line and do all the minutiae of research you need to do to make the product. It’s hard to invest $500 million in manufacturing when your company has $5 million in funding a year.
Both Leyden Energy and A123 Systems failed after developing promising new systems, as their cash needs climbed and demand failed to meet expectations. Two other startups, Seeo and Sakti3, were acquired before they reached mass production and significant revenues, for prices below what their early-stage investors probably expected.
In summary, 1) it took Sony about 12 years from discovery to commercialization of the Li-ion rechargeable battery, 2) it’s difficult to take a new battery from idea to product, because when you improve one aspect you compromise others, 3) it will cost about $500 million to progress from battery research to commercialization, but most startups averaged just $40 million in funding over eight years, and, as a result, 4) several advanced battery companies founded in the past 15 years have tried and failed to reach commercialization.
In the next post, I’ll examine the time it has taken other industries to transform themselves through photolithographic technology and wafer production.