Originally published on the ECOreport.
Forbes, Bloomberg, TechCrunch, Giacom, Green Car Congress, Xconomy, Reuters Pe Hub, The Green Optimistic, VentureBeat, and the MIT Technology Review have all written about the California start-up company Seeo. Korean electronics giant Samsung led in the recent $17 million round of series E investments. The other two investors, Khosla Ventures and Beijing-based GSR Ventures, increased existing holdings. According to President & CEO Hal Zarem, Seeo has a longer lasting battery that can double the existing range of most EVs and has grid applications. Will Seeo’s 400 Wh/kg battery fulfil expectations?
Zarem points to Seeo’s most recent investor” “Samsung is a major supplier and a major user of batteries, so they know a lot about this space. We see their investment as a real vote of confidence. There are a lot of small companies doing battery development and there has been a lot of noise in this space. As a sophisticated investor, Samsung knows how to cut through that and chose to invest in Seeo, which obviously helps us financially and opens up other possibilities for the future.”
Though Samsung has previously denied its plans to enter the EV space, it has filed for technology that can be used in electronic vehicles. One of its subsidiaries has been researching lithium-ion battery cell technology with BMW since 2009. (Note that Samsung SDI is a known supplier of EV batteries.)
What does Samsung see in Seeo?
“We have a solid state battery and are developing a product that is targeted at 400 Wh/kg, which is an energy density that is two to three times that of existing products out there,” said Zarem. “When you double the energy density, you almost cut the cost of manufacturing in half.”
He added: “This type of energy density has the promise to enable mainstream adoption of EVs by hitting range and cost targets that consumers need to see.”
Given that EVs are already superior to gas cars in many ways — a recent comparison was iPhones to the old dial ups –– this could trigger a massive shift in the popular choice of transportation.
Seeo is not the only company working on a battery that can double the effective range of inexpensive EVs. Tesla and Panasonic are expected to start manufacturing by 2017 that will reportedly bring costs down a lot. There are startups like Sakti3, and there are undoubtedly other promising-looking ones out there.
Zarem said his company’s latest round of funding is to accelerate the development of Seeo’s 400 Wh/kg battery.
Seeo expects to start manufacturing a 300 Wh/kg battery in mid to late 2015.
“Our pilot production is in California. We will scale up in locations that are appropriate for customer opportunity and the cost of manufacturing,” said Zarem.
Given that prices keep coming down and this product is not yet ready for the market, he said it is too early to talk about the retail cost.
“Our battery technology is made on standard lithium-ion processing equipment, using mostly standard materials. We have developed our own proprietary polymer electrolyte. That’s the fundamental technology the company was founded on and we have an exclusive license to that from Lawrence Berkeley labs,” said Zarem. “We have developed a large family of patents around that technology.”
“It’s an all solid state battery. Solid interfaces lead to a more reliable battery. We have groups of cells that have undergone cycle testing to over 2,000 cycles, which is excellent, and we are continuing to improve on that.”
Seeo’s product is still being tested by automotive manufacturers.
“We are working on a prototype vehicle with a customer now,” said Zarem.
They have also performed a 10 kWh demonstration in a stationary storage application with solar panels.
“One of the unique features of the batteries is that they are reliable at elevated temperatures,” said Zarem.
“We see applications in outdoor environment, in warm climates where they use photovoltaics. The best application for our product, with regard to the grid, is along with distributed generation.”
Where large amounts of renewable energy have been deployed in California, Germany, and other parts of the world, the grid is suddenly expected to handle large influxes of energy. It is more efficient to store surpluses in the area than send them back to a central location. Seeo’s product stores energy from two to four hours.
“If you are distributing generation with photovoltaics, distribute your storage alongside that,” said Zarem. “The battery packs that are used for vehicles are on the order of tens of kilowatt hours and match very well with the size of photovoltaic panels that are in residential and commercial application.”
“That’s the holy grail and we want to get there. We think the potential is there, but no one is there now,” said Zarem.
There were a half a dozen people involved when Seeo’s proprietary, nanostructured non-flammable polymer electrolyte DryLyte™ was developed at Lawrence Berkeley labs.
They formed a company at Hayward, California during 2007. Seeo raised $15 million for its first pilot line in 2011.
“We developed larger format cells, that can be deployed in customer applications as well as modules which contain tens of cells or packs with hundreds of cells which is what you really need in a storage application or an automotive application,” said Zarem. “We’ve been able to make these in large commercially viable formats, make them at high yield, and now we’re pushing for the highest energy density before scaling this into mass production.”
Seeo’s 400 Wh/kg battery sounds impressive. Fulfil expectations.