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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 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 42

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Credit: Newscom
President Barack Obama inspects a Sakti3 battery at a White House event in August as Sastry looks on.
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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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