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British vacuum cleaner company blows money into US advanced battery start-up, hopes to suck up major benefits

big batteries

via Flickr © scalespeeder (CC BY 2.0)

The quest for the better battery continues with news today that the UK's vacuum cleaner company Dyson has invested US$15 million in Sakti3, a solid-state battery maker headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States.

Start-up Sakti3 specialises in next-generation lithium-ion and so-called "solid state" batteries and has already had an infusion of cash from the venture capital unit of General Motors as well as $5 million from Khosla Ventures, a group specialising in investing in "clean and green" technologies.

Dyson is ploughing money into research into solid state battery technology, mainly because it intends to launch a whole new series of much more powerful cordless (and robotic) vacuum cleaners over the course of the next four years. Hence the investment in Sakti3’s solid state technology.

According to James Dyson, the founder of and chief engineer at the Dyson company, "Sakti3 has achieved leaps in performance over other battery technologies." He adds, "Dyson wants to move away from the liquid electrolyte found in conventional lithium-ion batteries and towards solid state batteries. We believe Sakti3 has potential for exponential performance gains that will supercharge Dyson machines in the future."

And, of course, it is entirely possible that a new battery technology able to boost the performance of vacuum cleaners could be scaled-up or -down to power a wide range of other devices from electric cars to computers, tablets and mobile phones.

The work with and for Dyson will mark the first commercial application for Sakti3, which is a spin-off from the engineering department of the University of Michigan. Sakti3 says prototypes of the new batteries have energy densities double that of currently available lithium-ion batteries.

Dr. Ann Marie Sastry, of Ann Arbor (no relation) the CEO of Sakti3 says, “It was quite an honour for us to be approached by Dyson, precisely because they want the same as us - much, much better batteries. There is a great deal of knowledge and passion on both sides, and Dyson's engineering team has the capability and the track record to scale-up new ideas and make them a commercial reality. Together we will enable some transformative products.”

Meanwhile, another University of Michigan spin-off start-up, Elegus Technologies, says it has made a major breakthrough by developing a Kevlar nano-fibre product that acts as a barrier to prevent the unwanted flow of electrical current in lithium-ion batteries.

This is very important because, if it does what it says on the tin containing the bits of body armour, it should prevent the embarrassing (and potentially catastrophic) fires of the sort that bedevilled commercial (and very late) launch of the  Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet airliner. The then "state-of-the-art" lithium-ion battery system on that particular plane was prone to burst into flame, a terrible fault that, in 2013, forced Boeing, at great expense and loss of reputation, into grounding many of the  jets until the problem was resolved to the satisfaction of the US aviation authorities.

Dan Vanderley, co-founder of Elegus says, "The special feature of this material is we can make it very thin, so we can get more energy into the same battery cell size, or we can shrink the cell size. We have already had a lot of interest from companies looking to make thinner products."

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