Everybody is talking about solid state batteries nowadays, but it looks like Stanley Black & Decker got the jump on all of them. The company, which sounds like a law firm but is best known as a purveyor of motorized hand tools and other equipment, took a plunge into the solid state battery field through the little known Colorado startup Prieto Battery back in 2016. Now it looks like all that hard work is about to pay off.
What’s The Big Deal About Solid State Energy Storage?
Everyone is talking about solid state batteries because they have emerged as the next best thing after conventional lithium-ion batteries, or at least one of the next best things.
Li-ion rechargeable batteries are doing a great job of powering the clean tech revolution so far. However, they are based on a liquid electrolyte that requires additional engineering architecture for safety, durability, and efficiency. The result is a good battery or even a great battery, considering the range of today’s crop of electric vehicles. However, rechargeable batteries could be even better if they cost less, weighed less, and had a smaller footprint in the vehicle.
In today’s world of looming climate catastrophe, the environmental load involved in manufacturing conventional lithium-ion batteries is also a consideration. That includes impacts related to the lithium supply chain as well as the carbon footprint and use of toxic chemicals.
Solid state energy storage technology features a solid electrolyte, which offers built-in safety, durability, and efficiency advantages while also opening up new avenues for lower-impact manufacturing.
The solid state field has been slow to take off, but just last spring Ford and BMW announced a new solid state battery partnership, with BMW in particular focusing on the role of solid state energy storage technology in the circular economy of the sparkling green future.
What Is This Prieto Battery Of Which You Speak?
Prieto Battery is the brainchild of Amy Prieto, professor of Chemistry at Colorado State University.
“Her research focuses on developing synthetic methods for nanostructured materials with applications in renewable energy,” explains CSU, adding that “Her specific emphasis is on using electrodeposition as a synthetic tool for making a 3D, high-power-density rechargeable battery; developing the solution phase synthesis of nanoparticles of earth-abundant, non-toxic materials for photovoltaic inks and of light metal hydrides for hydrogen storage; and using chemical vapor deposition reactions to develop hyperbranched nanowire structures for applications in photonics and batteries.”
Amy Prieto first popped up on the CleanTechnica radar back in 2013 with her vision of a foam copper battery, and in 2015 our friends over at MIT Technology Review picked up the story under the headline “New Foam Batteries Promise Fast Charging, Higher Capacity.”
“3-D batteries could be cheaper to make, faster to charge, safer, smaller, and less environmentally toxic than conventional batteries. What’s more, because they can be made lightweight, flexible, and in an almost limitless variety of shapes, they could offer energy storage applications previously unimaginable,” Technology Review enthused.
Speaking of women in the foam-type solid state energy storage field, Technology Review points out that part of the credit for getting the technology taken seriously goes to Naval Reserach Laboratory chemist and head of the lab’s Electrochemical Materials section Debra Rolison, who pioneered the field back in the 1990s.
Stanley Black & Decker Hearts Cutting Edge Innovation
No word yet on plans for applying the Prieto Battery architecture to electric vehicles. In the meantime, the prospect of small, lighter, longer-lasting and more sustainably manufactured batteries for battery-powered hand tools and other equipment soon attracted the attention of Stanley Black & Decker. Prieto was among the first startups to benefit when the company launched it Stanley Ventures arm in 2016.
Prieto currently shares space with almost 40 other startups in the Stanley Ventures portfolio, and then there is “STANLEY X,” which Stanley Black & Decker describes as “our newly renamed and consolidated organization that focuses on accelerating the development and commercialization of disruptive innovations.”
“It also includes the incubation and scaling of new ventures such as Dado and Surehand as well as our new growth opportunities in construction technology, advanced manufacturing and talent solutions,” the company adds. The Internet of Things, quantum computing, and blockchain are among other areas of interest on the menu.
Meanwhile, Stanley Black & Decker is also focusing on ensuring a steady supply of conventional energy storage solutions for its electric tools and equipment. Our friends over at The Wall Street Journal note that the company has begun focusing more efforts on co-investing on battery manufacturing as a means of stabilizing its supply chain, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic being a key motivator.
When the pandemic outbreak hit the US last spring, Stanley Black & Decker collaborated with Ford and 3M to provide a portable battery for air-purifying respirators need by front line health care workers, which could indicate a future market for the lighter, more compact energy storage solutions offered by solid state batteries.
That could also dovetail with the Biden administration’s plans for re-energizing the US manufacturing sector and securing domestic industries against supply chain disruptions. As WSJ notes, Stanley Black & Decker already does much of its manufacturing in the US and Europe.
The Renewable Energy Angle On Energy Storage
Of course, no mention of energy storage would be complete without a mention of renewable energy, and Stanley Black & Decker is already venturing into that field as well.
In 2019 the company debuted the Nadi solar-powered water pump, the first entry in its new “STANLEY Earth” trademarked brand.
“Through this brand, the company will leverage its core technology expertise and broad partnership network to create new solutions that address unmet societal needs, including critical sustainable development challenges such as water, energy, and climate,” Stanley Black & Decker explained.
The Nadi pump is aimed at improving irrigation for smallhold farmers and has proven to be a success in India, its initial country of launch. No word yet on what Stanley Earth’s next project will be, so stay tuned for more on that.
Meanwhile, Prieto Battery is on a roll. Intel was another early investor, and a new round of $5.7 million in Series C financing was just spearheaded by the newly minted venture capital firm Pilatus Capital, with another assist from Stanley Ventures.
Though scaling up to the size of an EV battery does not seem to be in Prieto’s immediate plans, the prospect of smaller, lighter, less costly batteries for electric bicycles could light a fire under e-bike manufacturers, or so hope the many e-bike fans over here at CleanTechnica (more e-bike coverage here and here).
Pilatus aims to apply the scholarly research and experience of its Executive Chairman and co-founder David J. Teece.
Interesting! Solid state energy storage seems like a good place to start for Pilatus Capital. No word yet on what its next investment will be, so stay tuned for more on that.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: Solid state battery technology courtesy of Prieto Battery.
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