With Funding from Samsung, Battery Startup Seeo Advances

Material science typically moves slowly, so companies developing better batteries need investors able to stick around for more than just a few years. Seeo has found that some corporate investors are willing to bet on next-generation batteries.

The Hayward, CA-based company, which was founded in 2007, today said that the venture arm of Korean tech giant Samsung led a $17 million Series E investment round. Previous investors Khosla Ventures and Beijing-based GSR Ventures also participated in the round. Other investors include Presidio Venture Partners, the venture capital vehicle of Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo Corp., and Google.org, the philanthropy arm of the Internet advertising company.

Anybody who has experienced low charge on a smart phone or laptop knows there’s a strong need for better lithium-ion batteries. The low energy density of today’s batteries, or the amount of energy capacity per volume, is also what limits the range of electric vehicles to less than gasoline cars.

Seeo has developed a solid-state electrolyte it says can deliver more than double the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. Conventional electrolytes—the liquid or gel through which charged atoms move between the positive and negative electrodes in a battery—are flammable, which poses safety problems. With a solid-state battery, the electrolyte is a solid material. That allows battery designers to pack more energy storage in a given space and lower the risk of overheating if a cell is punctured in a car collision, for example.

Ann Arbor, MI-based Sakti3 and Cambridge, MA-based Solid Power are also working on solid-state batteries. Saskti3 expects the first market for its batteries will be wearable devices.

Seeo’s polymer electrolyte material was first developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with federal government funding. It says its current battery cells are about twice the energy density of current lithium-ion batteries

One of the big challenges for next-generation battery companies is finding investors willing to be patient and take the technical risk common in a materials-based venture. Developing novel materials and manufacturing them at scale can take many years and, if a new production facility is needed, could require a lot of capital.

Although Seeo hasn’t disclosed how much money it has raised in total, it took in $15 million and $8.8 million in previous rounds, according to filings. Khosla Ventures is one of the few venture firms still active in energy and materials-related companies. Meanwhile, Samsung Venture Investment Corp. has invested in other materials-related companies, including OLED lighting company Kateeva.

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