The energy-storage-focused venture fund Volta Energy Technologies added two strategic backers, bringing total funds raised to $180 million.
The Norwegian energy major Equinor (formerly Statoil) and automotive equipment vendor Hanon Systems joined previous investors Exelon and Albemarle. Based in Chicago, Volta aims to speed up commercialization of energy technologies through close collaboration with Argonne National Lab and strategic investors who can put the products to work.
The fund will disburse its money over the next five to seven years, at a likely pace of four to seven investments per year, CEO Jeff Chamberlain said via email.
"Both new strategic investors add value to our overall consortium of potential end users for the tech and businesses we identify with the most potential to scale," he said. "Both investors offer new opportunities to deploy more energy storage, with an energy developer and auto parts leader."
Near-term focus areas include long-duration storage for the grid, battery recycling and battery management systems, he added.
The raise provides yet another example of the cleantech venture space heating up after a long cold spell.
It's all the more notable because Volta was established to tackle precisely the sort of investments that most VCs were running away from. Its stated focus is "hardware, software, materials or manufacturing processes that enable the ubiquitous adoption of batteries for electric vehicles and storage for renewable power generation," according to Chamberlain.
In the cleantech VC boom of the late 2000s, hardware companies soaked up hundreds of millions of dollars to commercialize laboratory breakthroughs, but batteries and exotic solar cells proved harder to scale than software apps. After a series of busts, investors largely pulled back from hardware.
Chamberlain saw the difficulties in translating from lab to grid when he ran Argonne's battery commercialization effort. Now in the private sector, he established a research agreement with his former employer to allow startups to access the immense resources of the lab as they validate their technologies.
Highly vetted technology still needs a customer willing to give it a try. That's where the strategic backers come in.
“If you have physical technology to scale, the best thing to do is partner with those who will ultimately buy and use the innovation, because they will drive you to the right endgame in your product’s performance and cost,” Chamberlain said in an October interview, when Volta invested in solid-state battery startup Solid Power.
Hanon Systems joined that investment, although the companies had not revealed a deeper relationship at the time.
The raise by Volta — not to be confused with Volta Energy, a startup that offers free electric vehicle charging monetized by ad revenue — follows several notable cleantech fund raises in recent months.
Invenergy Future Fund closed a $150 million in September and changed its name to Energize Ventures. Schneider Electric reformulated its investment activities in November as Schneider Electric Ventures and outfitted it with $565 million to spend. Oakland cleantech hub Powerhouse launched a $5.5 million seed-stage fund in January.
These and others have created a number of avenues for early-stage cleantech firms to grow their war chests on the path to commercialization.
Previously, Volta had closed four investments:
- Conamix: Materials company tackling low-cost, cobalt-free lithium-ion battery chemistry
- Ionic Materials: Solid-state battery company
- Nanoscale Components: Developing a manufacturing process for higher-energy materials for lithium-ion batteries
- Solid Power: Solid-state battery company