UC San Diego spinout South 8 Technologies nets $ 12M for tech to improve lithium batteries

South 8 Technologies, a UC San Diego spinout that has developed a novel way to boost voltage and improve safety in lithium batteries, said Tuesday that it has raised $ 12 million in a first round of venture capital funding.

The 15-employee company will use the money to get more prototype cells with its Liquefied Gas Electrolyte – or LiGas – technology into the hands of outfits working on electric vehicles, all-weather grid storage, aerospace and defense products and renewable energy.

“With the battery and auto industries placing big bets on a relatively narrow set of potential breakthrough innovations, we are offering a truly unique and much more practical alternative technology to stakeholders and customers who need a safer and higher performing lithium battery solution than is currently available , ”Said Cyrus Rustomji, a Ph.D. and chief executive / co-founder of the company.

South 8 sprang out of a university research project to improve lithium battery performance in extremely cold temperatures. The method scientists discovered, however, works across all temperatures and potentially could enable higher voltage cells, avoid thermal runaway, reduce costs and encourage recycling, according to the company.

South 8 key invention replaces the liquid electrolyte in lithium batteries – often a lithium salt solution – with gases that liquify under pressure. Rustomji likens the technology to how propane works in backyard barbecues.

At room temperature and normal pressure, propane is a gas. “But you can liquify it under a moderate amount of pressure and store it in a tank under your barbecue,” he said. “That is essentially what we are doing – not with propane but with other gaseous materials that we discovered happen to work very well inside a battery device.”

Anzu Partners led the funding round, with participation from LG Technology Ventures, Shell Ventures, Foothill Ventures and Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corporation.

Efforts to improve performance and safety for lithium-ion batteries has been underway for years, with plenty of failures. Researchers have tried to crack the code by experimenting with all four major lithium-ion battery components – cathode, anode, separator and electrolytes.

“The bottleneck for all this chemistry development is the electrolyte, the blood of the battery because it touches everything,” said Jungwoo Lee, Ph.D., co-founder and chief technology officer of South 8.

These days, the buzz around battery improvement centers on solid materials replacing liquid chemistries. But going to solids would require battery makers to revamp their current production processes, said Lee.

In contrast, South 8 believes it can plug its LiGas technology into existing battery assembly lines with little disruption.

“We are the first and only one to say what about gases?” said Lee. “Lithium battery manufacturing has been around for 30 years. These capital expenditures have been made. It is unreasonable to ask people to throw it out. ”

The company declined to identify what gases are used in its proprietary LiGas technology. But it claims that they are non-toxic and widely deployed in industrial production.

“As we continue to see growth in electrification of transportation and renewables uptake, there is a critical focus on safety and performance in advanced battery technologies,” said Jimmy Kan, a principal at Anzu Partners. “With LiGas, South 8 has demonstrated a technology that finally breaks the tradeoffs that the industry has had to make for years, enabling lithium-ion battery producers and automotive companies to access higher-performing, inherently safe batteries without compromising on electrode materials selection or manufacturability. ”

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