Alsym Energy raises $78M to make batteries that don’t use lithium


Alsym Energy has raised $78 million to make batteries that don’t use lithium or other materials that result in supply problems or high costs.

Tata Limited, a division of Tata Sons, and global venture capital firm General Catalyst led the round.

Based in Woburn, Massachusetts, Alsym Energy is developing next-generation non-flammable rechargeable batteries for stationary storage, marine and mobility applications. New York-based Thrive Capital and Toronto-based Thomvest also joined in the round, as well as existing investor Drads Capital.

Alsym will use the funds to grow its Boston-area team and expand its prototyping and pilot lines to address increasing demand for customer samples. This funding from strategic investors and venture capital firms highlights the growing interest in high-performance, inexpensive non-flammable battery technologies.

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How it could improve batteries

A small format battery cell is assembled at Alsym.

Alsym’s battery is an aqueous metal oxide battery. Functionally and structurally it works just like lithium ion but it uses a different set of materials. There are diagrams on the company’s technology page that explain this visually.

Alsym’s batteries are ideally suited to grid storage applications, especially in urbanized areas, due to the combination of energy density, cost, and safety. This is the company’s initial target market, and one where expected future needs are increasing by the day. Alsym can do discharge durations from four to 100 hours, making its battery technology a single solution for short, medium, and long duration storage.

The company is currently sourcing mainly from the U.S. with some suppliers in Europe and Japan. All of the materials used in the battery are inherently non-flammable and non-toxic making sourcing, manufacturing, application, and end of life processes safe and environmentally friendly.

Thus, the company said its battery is 1) a better solution for marine applications as fleets electrify- the battery’s aqueous nature makes it suitable for the maritime environment 2) a better solution for two-wheeler applications with poor heat dissipation and 3) reduces the need for expensive BMS, cooling systems for both mobility and stationary storage applications.

Origins

Mukesh Chatter is CEO of Alsym Energy.

About a decade ago, CEO and serial entrepreneur Mukesh Chatter and his wife made a decision to put their resources to use in ways that would have an impact on at least a billion people around the world.

At the time, nearly two billion people were living without regular access to electricity. This makes it difficult for people to emerge from poverty, and forces them to use fuels like kerosene to light their homes at night.

While solar panels were widely available, the only storage options at that time were toxic lead-acid batteries that require regular replacement, or expensive lithium-ion batteries that were out of reach for most.

Chatter realized the world needed a battery with the performance of lithium-ion at the cost of lead acid. It needed to be a new technology that would be non-flammable, non-toxic, and made from readily-available materials to keep prices low.

After being told by numerous experts that his goal was impossible, Chatter managed to find kindred spirits in professor Kripa Varanasi (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and professor Nikhil Koratkar (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). The team founded Alsym Energy in April 2015, with Rahul Mukherjee joining as a fourth cofounder.

After several years of development, they landed on a novel battery chemistry that met all of the original criteria, and also had the potential to meet needs beyond the original goals of lighting up homes. Nine years later, the team is preparing to scale Alsym Green, its first product for stationary storage and other wide-ranging applications, to a new automated pilot line. At the same time, Alsym is working on its next products for the marine and mobility markets.

The battery safety challenge

Alsym Energy board member Kripa Varanasi.

Lithium-ion has been the prevailing battery material technology for the past few decades because
it does a great job of storing a lot of energy in a small footprint. However, lithium-ion has some known downsides.

Battery cells use flammable organic solvents as the main electrolyte component, as well as other flammable, toxic, and problematic materials including cobalt. If a battery is damaged, overcharged, or experiences an internal short due to improper use or manufacturing defects, it can enter a process called thermal runaway.

In this situation, battery cells generate more heat than can be dissipated. That heat causes the electrolyte to evaporate, and if enough pressure builds up, cells can begin to vent flammable gases, including deadly hydrogen fluoride, that can ignite and catch fire.

Lithium-ion batteries were a leading cause of structure fires in New York, and other cities such as Mumbai are regularly dealing with fires started by lithium batteries in scooters. Lithium-ion batteries are also the primary technology used in stationary storage applications, which includes large grid-tied batteries as well as ones used in private microgrids, datacenters, and home power walls. In some use cases, capacity is measured in hundreds of megawatt hours.

Stationary storage fires can also have significant impacts. In 2022 in Monterey, California, a battery container caught fire at the Moss Landing energy storage facility, shutting down nearby Highway 1
and triggering a shelter in place order for a seven square mile area. There have been multiple other emergencies instigated by battery fires.

Cost and supply challenges

Rahul Mukherjee is director of R&D at Alsym Energy.

On top of the safety risk, the lithium-ion value chain is also highly constrained. Some raw materials are
only mined in a handful of countries, and in some situations, refining capacity is centralized in a single country.

Non-lithium batteries are needed for reasons of supply chain diversity. When it comes to batteries, we’ve put all our eggs in one basket. Non-lithium batteries help diversify the global battery mix so that lithium-ion supply chain disruptions or pricing volatility don’t derail the clean energy transition.

Most non-lithium batteries are immune to the fire issues inherent to lithium-ion, making them safer for use in and around people and in hazardous environments. That includes stationary storage in urban areas, transportation, home storage (power walls) and industrial applications such as steel mills, chemical plants, mining.

And most non-lithium batteries can be made using materials that have much more diverse, robust supply
chains than lithium-ion. This means countries will find it easier to support domestic battery industries using materials sourced in-country, or from established free-trade partners.

Alsym Battery manufacturing.

Energy generation is shifting to renewables, which are intermittent by nature and must be backed up by battery energy storage systems (BESS) at scale to ensure 24/7 availability as fossil-fuel plants go offline.

A variety of storage technologies are needed to address the different requirements of customers in terms of costs and performance. Alsym’s first product for this market, called Alsym Green, offers significantly higher system-level energy density than other non-flammable, non-lithium battery chemistries. Products targeted to the marine, two-wheeler, three-wheeler, and passenger vehicle markets are planned to follow.

With the ability to operate at elevated temperatures, Alsym Green is the only high-performance, non-flammable option suitable for stationary and grid storage in situations where the risk of fire increases as the mercury rises, the company said.

“As the clean energy transition accelerates, it’s becoming more apparent that a single battery technology is not ideal for every use case, and that more options are needed to help address the challenges of a changing climate,” said Mukesh Chatter, CEO of Alsym Energy, in a statement. “This funding round represents a significant vote of confidence in our approach to developing new, non-flammable battery chemistries that combine high performance and low cost with a high level of safety.”

He added, “It gives us the ability to speed our pace of development, increase our capacity to provide samples to both existing and prospective customers, and ultimately get our first product to market as quickly as possible.”

With industry-leading levelized cost of storage (LCOS) and the ability to support a wide, software configurable range of discharge durations, Alsym batteries can be used for short, medium, and long-duration storage applications without the need for multiple solutions, Alsym said.

“Battery storage systems can help provide firm capacity to the grid when the sun is not shining and wind is not blowing, but changing climates and hazardous environments demand flexible solutions that can meet a range of needs safely and economically,” said Kripa Varanasi, cofounder of Alsym Energy, in a statement.

Varanasi is a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a thought leader in decarbonization and sustainability.

Varanasi added, “Alsym batteries are ideally suited to both temperate and warming climates, as well as infrastructure and industrial applications including datacenters, steel mills, and chemical plants. Our low-cost, non-toxic technology will help make decarbonization economically feasible in the developed world as well as G-77 nations, allowing everyone to play a role in the clean energy future.”

General Catalyst was drawn in part to the deal as it continues to see record scaling of renewable energy resources around the world.

“The practical constraints and supply chain uncertainties of lithium-ion batteries have become more acute, driving demand for alternatives that compete on performance, cost, and availability. This is particularly salient in emerging markets, where battery storage will be critical to driving down the cost of clean energy,” said Genevieve Kinney, partner at General Catalyst, in a statement. “Alsym’s low-cost batteries combine performance and safety, and their strategic partnerships reflect one of the key pillars of our Global Resilience thesis, which relies on radical collaboration with established industry partners to scale new, critical technologies. With this partnership, we believe Alsym is well-positioned to drive a more sustainable future around the world.”

Tata is part of the Tata Group, a huge Indian company with 30 divisions. It was founded by Jamsetji Tata in 1868, and it operates in more than 100 countries across six continents.

Alsym has 52 employees and it has raised $110 million to date.

source

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