Big Delta Systems Say Spray-On Batteries Are the Future of Power

Big Delta Systems say batteries don’t only have to be square.

Or rectangles and circles. Entrepreneurs at the Rice University startup say they have developed technology that performs as a battery but is able to be molded into an infinite number of shapes and styles.

“The battery takes up around 40 percent of a device,” says Neelam Singh, Big Delta’s co-founder and chief technology officer. “We are making batteries that can take any shape or size, or be on any surface. The idea is to give freedom to device designers.”

To understand what Big Delta aims to do, let’s first consider how batteries are currently produced. Right now, the components—such as positive and negative current collectors, an ion-conducting separator, and an anode to attract negative ions—are created in separate manufacturing processes and then brought together in layers, like a jelly roll, to form a finished battery.

What Big Delta says it’s developed is a sprayable liquid form of those components so that batteries can take any shape. To keep the layers together in the slurry, Big Delta uses poly-methylmethacrylate, a chemical that creates a structure that also helps the compound to stick to curved surfaces.

Since the battery could now be any depth, Singh says the company has essentially invented a spray-on battery, applying its slurry to a variety of surfaces, including glass, stainless steel, tile, and even a coffee mug—turning that surface into an energy storage device.

Big Delta debuted for investors in August as part of the Bayou Showcase, a joint pitch day for startups from Rice University and the University of Houston. It has landed an investment of an undisclosed amount from a Rice alum and is currently trying to raise a small seed round, Singh says. (She declined to name the investor or detail the amount.) The startup is also a finalist for the Goradia Prize, a purse of up to $50,000 given yearly to early-stage tech companies by a Houston family of the same name.

Big Delta believes its technology to be most immediately of interest to the wearable devices market. “In the smart watches coming out today, the battery packs in these watches are coin-type batteries or rectangular blocks,” says Charudatta Galande, CEO and co-founder of Big Delta. “You can’t really do much with the shape around it. But with our technology, the battery could be part of the casing or the strap.”

The Rice entrepreneurs are not the only ones looking at battery innovation geared to the growing number of products geared to the “quantified self” like Fitbits, Jawbones, and the like. For example, in June, Imprint Energy, which is based in Alameda, CA, raised $6 million in Series A funding from investors such as Phoenix Venture Partners, Flextronics Lab IX, and AME Cloud Ventures. The company, which was spun out of the University of California at Berkeley, plans to use the fund to develop its ZincPoly battery, which it says is flexible and rechargeable, to target the wearables and Internet of Things markets.

Galande says they have spoken to a few manufacturers about potential collaborations, but that it could be four years before Big Delta’s spray-on battery hits the market.

In the meantime, he says they realize that there is some investor fatigue when it comes to battery startups. He points to the once high-flying A123, a Waltham, MA-based company that went from the country’s largest IPO at $371 million in 2009 to a bankruptcy filing four years later. “A lot of these companies have promised a lot but delivered very little,” he says. “We recognize this, that raising capital right now is challenging.”

Still, he added that an advantage for Big Delta is that it is not trying to invent new chemistries or materials, but instead, repackaging existing and proven battery technology.

One interesting idea is pairing Big Delta’s battery technology with solar cells in order to have both energy capture and energy storage capabilities. Think buildings lined with spray-painted battery tiles and solar cells on the roof. “We think there are amazing capabilities using this technology,” Singh says.

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