The battery industry in the United States is alive and kicking.
Boston-Power, which designs and produces lithium-ion batteries, has received $55 million more in funding. In all, the company has attracted $125 million since being founded in 2005.
"Most of the money will be used for factories," said CEO Christina Lampe-Onnerud in an interview. Right now, Boston-Power can produce about 300,000 cells per month "and we want to get to the multiple millions per month level." Boston-Power will build some factories, but also acquire existing ones. Much of this new factory capacity will be located in Asia.
The Boston-based company recently landed a contract to supply batteries to Hewlett-Packard for a few select consumer notebook s. Additionally, the company will "absolutely" announce another notebook deal this year as well as work with HP to see if it's possible to put the company's Sonata batteries in other products.
Eventually, Boston Power wants to sell batteries to makers of electric bikes and plug-in and electric vehicles. Electric cars and vehicles will take time, she added. Despite the fact that manufacturers collectively have popped out millions of cars, they remain complex systems.
"The electric vehicle is not a finished concept even. It is pretty complicated," she said, adding that electric cars "are by far the biggest opportunity in our lifetime" for battery makers.
The state of the domestic battery industry has become a major issue recently. A coalition of established manufacturers and startups last month formed a coalition, called the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture, which is seeking more than $1 billion from the federal government. The coalition says it will try to build up a U.S. battery industry that will produce domestic jobs.
It's easier said than done. This week, General Motors selected South Korea's LGChem over the U.S.'s A123 Systems to supply batteries to the Chevy Volt. GM cited LG's extensive experience, its ability to put out large numbers of batteries, and the fact that LG also makes lithium-ion batteries in the prismatic, or flat, form factor as reasons. (We also have a story on ultracapacitors from Graphene Energy. There hasn't been this much battery-themed related news in a single week since the ancient Romans discovered how to make decorative, lustrous dinner plates with lead.)
If anything, Boston Power in some ways is more like LG than A123. Rather than use a newer, novel chemistry like lithium phosphate as A123 has done, Boston-Power's batteries are based around the standard lithium ion chemistry that has been used in notebooks for years.
The company's secret sauce is quality control: It has fine-tuned the casing, the anode, the cathode and other systems inside the battery. In the end, this results in a battery that can last three years, or 1,000 charging cycles, before the battery's capacity to hold power becomes substantially diminished. Conventional lithium-ion batteries might only go 300 cycles or less.
Boston-Power also makes a variety of batteries. It has prismatics as well as cylindrical cells along with higher and lower powered cells. It depends on the design requirements of the customer.
"We've won a seat at the design table, but I can tell you it wasn't easy," she said. "I don't think there will be a one size fits all."
Lampe-Onnerud further added that the company joined the Advanced Transportation coalition. Not all of these public-private initiatives work, but they can help jumpstart industries if structured correctly.
"It is about time we did something like this in the West," she said. "I've seen them work in Asia.
Investors in the latest round included Foundation Asset Management (FAM) and included existing blue-chip investors Oak Investment Partners, Venrock, GGV Capital and Gabriel Venture Partners.