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The next storage breakthrough is... compressed air?

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Who needs lithium ion? A pair of 20-somethings has attracted a second round of venture money for a highly efficient compressed air storage system. And not just pocket change; we're talking a $37.3 million investment. And not from just any venture capitalists, but from big-name investors including Bill Gates and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

 

Apparently the duo that founded LightSail Energy in 2009 – Chief Scientist Danielle Fong and CEO Steve Crane – figured out how to capture and reuse the heat generated when electric motors compress air, making their system much more efficient.

 

According to lead investor Vinod Khosla, the Berkeley, CA-based startup has the potential to produce "reliable grid-scale storage at a fraction of the cost of today’s battery technology."

 

In a press release (which you can read in full on page 2) Crane suggests that with the investment, his company "is well positioned to tackle, once and for all, a problem that’s bedeviled the electrical industry for more than a century." LightSail will use the $37.3 million to bring their first grid-scale energy storage products to market.

 

More on energy storage…

Energy storage market will climb, but challenges remain

Promising steps toward grid-scale renewables storage (really)

Grid storage outlook: Battery costs will drop, but not enough to shut the door on innovation

November 05, 2012 09:30 AM Eastern Time

LightSail Energy Raises $37.3 Million from Peter Thiel, Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Innovacorp and Other Top Investors

Low-Cost Energy Storage Leader to Unlock Potential of the Electric Grid to Meet Growing Global Demand

BERKELEY, Calif.--()--LightSail Energy, a developer of breakthrough energy storage technology, announced today that it has raised $37.3 million in Series D funding led by San Francisco investor Peter Thiel. Khosla Ventures, which incubated the company and led LightSail’s earlier rounds, Bill Gates, Innovacorp, and several other investors also participated in the round.

Founded in 2009, LightSail Energy is applying thermodynamics (the science of heat transfer and utilization) to solve the problems of today’s electrical grid. The lack of economical energy storage at megawatt scale has limited the penetration of renewable energy generation, such as wind and solar, in many parts of the world and has limited grid transmission capacity. LightSail’s technology makes power available when it’s needed, not just when it’s available. LightSail also helps to manage the increasing demand for peak power, making the entire grid more reliable and more practical for erratic renewable sources of energy.

“This investment round will enable LightSail to bring its first grid-scale energy storage products to market,” said Steve Crane, co-founder and CEO of LightSail Energy. “We’ve proven that our transformative thermodynamics technology works at scale. With the support of a truly extraordinary group of investors, LightSail is well positioned to tackle, once and for all, a problem that’s bedeviled the electrical industry for more than a century. We want to democratize energy – to enable renewable sources to supply energy on demand locally and at a lower cost than centralized fossil-fuel based generation.”

“The power grid needs cheap, reliable energy storage, but every single solution to date has been only incremental. Danielle Fong, Steve Crane, Ed Berlin and the rest of the LightSail team are taking a completely different approach that’s based on fundamental thermodynamics. They have the potential to totally disrupt the electricity industry’s assumptions with reliable grid-scale storage at a fraction of the cost of today’s battery technology. When deployed, LightSail’s technology would reduce the need for transmission line investment, peaker power plants, and make renewable energy practical and mainstream for the first time,” said Vinod Khosla, founding partner of Khosla Ventures.

“For far too long, the clean tech industry has been driven by politicians and ideologues who trade people’s taxes for dreams,” said Peter Thiel. “But hype is not a sustainable energy source. While authentic energy breakthroughs are needed to overcome geological constraints, fraudulent companies have driven out the good. It’s time to find honest companies that can develop technologies that stand on real innovation instead of the backs of taxpayers. LightSail is run by engineers, not salespeople, and it promises to be one of the first true alternative energy storage companies.”

ABOUT LIGHTSAIL ENERGY:

Danielle Fong’s scientific advances and entrepreneurial talent as LightSail’s co-founder and Chief Scientist have already been widely recognized. She was one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 energy innovators and the youngest of this year’s Technology Review 35, among many other honors. As a graduate student at Princeton University, she realized that it’s possible to solve the cost and efficiency problems that have prevented widespread adoption of energy storage with the most humble, but most available and lowest-cost of materials – air. LightSail’s technology is able to convert electrical energy to compressed air, and then reverse the process to deliver electrical energy again when it’s needed, all the while keeping losses to a minimum.

To learn more about LightSail Energy, visit www.lightsail.com.

ABOUT KHOSLA VENTURES:

Khosla Ventures offers venture assistance, strategic advice and capital to entrepreneurs. The firm helps entrepreneurs extend the potential of their ideas for breakthrough technologies in clean energy, mobile, IT, cloud, big data, storage, health, food, agriculture and semiconductors. Vinod Khosla founded the firm in 2004 and was formerly a General Partner at Kleiner Perkins and co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Khosla Ventures is based in Menlo Park, Calif. More information is available at www.khoslaventures.com.

ABOUT INNOVACORP:

Innovacorp is a Nova Scotia crown corporation. Established in 1995, the organization’s mission is to fuel sustainable economic growth by enabling Nova Scotia knowledge-based companies to accelerate the commercialization of their technologies and increase competitiveness in export markets. In May 2011, Innovacorp refined its business model to one focused on venture capital investments in order to improve its ability to deliver on its mission. The organization’s investment and mentoring divisions were merged and management changes were made to provide a streamlined, customer-centric service offering focused on Seed and Series A investments. Early-stage investment is at the core of Innovacorp’s operations. The organization also provides tailored, hands-on business advisory services and gives entrepreneurs access to world-class incubation facilities. More information is available at innovacorp.ca.

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