Gridtential, an energy storage startup developing lead-acid battery technology, just won a vote of confidence in the form of $6 million from lead-acid industry giants and strategic investors including East Penn Manufacturing and Crown Battery Manufacturing (a supplier of deep-cycle batteries since 1926). Leoch International, a large lead acid battery exporter in China, and Power-Sonic, a global battery distributor also invested.
Gridtential replaces the lead grid inside a traditional lead battery with a plated silicon wafer similar to a solar cell.
Kevin Smith, East Penn’s VP of technology told GTM that Gridtential has made “remarkable strides” in demonstrating advancements from the traditional lead-battery design. East Penn is a 70 year-old, privately-held, “very vertically integrated” lead-acid battery builder headquartered in the town of Lyons Station, Penn. (population: 350). Smith said that the company making venture investments in startups was “an anomaly” but Gridtential had the potential to prolong the leadership of lead-acid technology and disrupt some portions of the market.
Smith also pointed out that while Tesla touts its gigafactory, the lead-acid industry and East Penn have already reached that type of volume and scale — the East Penn facility will build 40 million batteries for automotive, telecom and other motive applications. The company claims, in a release, that the lead-acid global manufacturing base is “70 times the size of Tesla’s gigafactory efforts.”
Smith said that the scalability of the Gridtential design allowed for 48-volt operation, increasingly in demand, as automobiles provide more creature comforts and safety features such as stop-start energy regeneration and engine shut-off at higher speeds. Gridtential claims that the 48-volt battery market for hybrid vehicles is a $30 billion global opportunity.
While GTM spends much of its energy storage coverage focused on lithium-ion technology, Gridtential's new battery architecture keeps the traditional benefits of lead batteries (lower cost, recyclability, wide temperature range, safety and long cycle life) while developing lithium-like performance including fast charge/discharge and deep depth of discharge.
Christiaan Beekhuis, co-founder and CEO told GTM in an earlier interview, “If the lead industry does not push forward faster, lithium, despite its well-publicized safety, cost and recycling challenges, could dominate” markets now owned by lead-acid.
Gridtential and its licensing partners will begin beta production of its batteries this year. The company claims its batteries can be “one-third lighter than existing advanced lead batteries with performance up to 5 times in power density.”
Ray Kubis, Gridtential's recently installed chairman, said “Rather than spending our time and efforts on continuous fund raising, we’ve chosen a capital-light path with an existing global network of suppliers that will swiftly exceed gigascale production of advanced lead-based batteries to meet rapidly growing application demand,” in a release. Kubis has worked in the battery industry roughly since the invention of the battery and has held leadership positions at EcoBat, General Battery, EnerSys and Johnson Controls.
“Advanced lead batteries, especially higher voltage silicon-lead bi-polar batteries can compete with lithium batteries, and of course they are safer and fully recyclable,” says Kubis.
Gridtential looks to provide a drop-in replacement for the standard lead acid battery. The startup keeps the form factor and charge process intact but drastically alters the internal battery architecture for a higher depth of discharge, longer life and lower price, according to the CEO.
As we reported earlier, the bipolar architecture uses the entire area of a silicon wafer as the conductor combined with traditional lead paste and sulfuric acid — stacked to build “a recognizable cell,” according to Beekhuis. Leveraging the existing 125-millimeter silicon wafer and supply chain, Gridtential is able to take advantage of silicon's thinness, light weight and high thermal conductivity to extract better charge-discharge performance and avoid fouling of the plates or stratification of the electrolyte. Gridtential's cells are stacked to build a battery of the desired voltage. “It's scalable and simple,” said the CEO.
The traditional lead acid battery is monopolar. Few bipolar batteries have made it to market, according to the CEO, because of thermal and other issues. Gridtential's design results in a 30 percent to 90 percent reduction in the amount of lead. Uniform current distribution helps improve cycle time and allows for a 2- to 4-hour discharge versus the 20-hour traditional range.
The company will manufacture plates and “move forward as a licensee and seller of plates to achieve scale at low capital intensity,” said the CEO. Potential licensees include the leaders in the lead acid battery market such as EnerSys, East Penn, Exide, and Johnson Controls.
Here are slides from a recent Gridtential Powerpoint presentation.