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Appliance Maker Dyson Buys Battery Start-up Sakti3

Energy: The vacuum tycoon plans to scale up the technology for more powerful and stable batteries

by Melody M. Bomgardner
October 26, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 42

Credit: Newscom
President Barack Obama inspects a Sakti3 battery at a White House event in August as Sastry looks on.
President Barack Obama looks at a battery from Sakit. as he views White House Demo Day exhibits on the state floor of the White House on August 4,2015 Sakti3: Ann Marie Sastry, Ann Arbor, Michigan With over 25 years of experience and 120 scientific publications, Dr. Ann Marie Sastry is a leading materials science researcher. After spending 17 years as a Professor at University of Michigan, doing research for DARPA, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and other sponsors in government agencies and the private sector, Dr. Sastry decided to found her company. Sakti is using materials science to develop the next generation of solid state lithium batteries that will power mobile phones, computers, and even cars.
Credit: Newscom
President Barack Obama inspects a Sakti3 battery at a White House event in August as Sastry looks on.

James Dyson, the British engineer known for making a vacuum cleaner that “never loses suction,” is now a player in next-generation batteries. His eponymous company has acquired start-up Sakti3, a developer of solid-state lithium-ion batteries, for a reported $90 million.

In March, Dyson invested $15 million in Sakti3—part of the appliance firm’s $2.3 billion program to fund future technologies. “Sakti3 has achieved leaps in performance, which current battery technology simply can’t,” Dyson explained at the time. “It’s these fundamental technologies—batteries, motors—that allow machines to work properly.” Dyson plans to develop the prototype battery for use in cordless appliances and robots.

Sakti3 was founded in 2007 by former University of Michigan engineering professor Ann Marie Sastry. Her team used computer models to select the materials and design for a battery that relies on a solid electrolyte in place of standard liquids. So-called solid-state batteries promise to deliver more energy in a smaller package, along with increased safety. Sakti3 chose a design that could be manufactured via thin-film deposition.

In a similar acquisition in August, Bosch, the German maker of power tools and auto parts, bought Seeo, a California start-up touting a solid-state battery with a dry polymer electrolyte. At the time, Bosch predicted that 15% of all new cars will have at least a hybrid electric power train by 2025.

Dyson and Bosch are acquiring solid-state battery makers because they don’t want to wait the five or 10 years it will take for other firms to develop them, explains Cosmin Laslau, a senior analyst at the high-tech consulting firm Lux Research. “They have to get a foothold by buying solid-state developers and funding them toward mass production,” he says.

As for why Sakti3 and Seeo didn’t try to go it alone, Laslau notes that start-ups can’t attract the levels of backing required to scale up manufacturing on their own. “Depending on how difficult the technology is to scale, the investment necessary could reach billions,” he says. “These start-ups needed a larger corporation with significant cash and revenue streams to help them take that next step.”



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