US Army Searches For The Silicon Battery Of Its Dreams

The silicon battery revolution is beginning to shape up, and the US Army aims to be a part of it. Last December, the Army put up $10 million to help the energy storage startup Nanograf build a new factory in Chicago, and last week the company raised another $65 billion in Series B funding. Nanograf is also working with Ford and GM among others to push the decarbonization envelope, so hold on to your hats.

More Cash For More Silicon Batteries

For those of you keeping score at home, the $65 million energy storage hullabaloo was co-led by Volta Energy Technologies and CC Industries. Also participating were GIC, Emerald Technology Ventures, Material Impact, Arosa Capital, Nabtesco Technology Ventures, and TechNexus.

That’s on top of existing investors that participated including Hyde Park Angels, Evergreen Climate Innovations, and Goose Capital. Those were no small potatoes, either.

“NanoGraf had previously raised a total of $27 million in funding from a mix of venture, angel and non-dilutive funding sources,” the company explained in a press release last week.

Bringing Silicon Batteries Home To The US Army

The Army connection came across the CleanTechnica radar just last December, when we noticed that the US Department of Defense was scouting for a longer-lasting, lighter energy storage platform to power the electrified equipment carried by today’s soldier.

The Inflation Reduction Act also gets a share of the credit. NanoGraf explains that the IRA created a policy framework that supports its plans for manufacturing silicon batteries in the US rather than overseas.

That’s a win for the Army, too, which is seeking to onshore its supply of critical supplies. In the context, it’s noteworthy that exactly zero Republican members of Congress voted to pass the IRA. Either they neglected to recognize the importance of securing a domestic supply chain for modern military equipment, or perhaps they simply missed the “support our troops” memo this time around.

Nanograf, for one, was paying attention.

“The U.S. battery supply chain issues brought on by unprecedented market demand is prevalent now more than ever, and NanoGraf is committed to onshoring key strategic components of the battery supply chain, aligned with President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act for clean energy and infrastructure projects,” the company explained.

“NanoGraf’s Series B funding supports onshoring of its silicon anode production in Chicago, as well as the continued development, production and supply of advanced lithium-ion technologies,” they added.

Why The US Army Hearts Silicon Energy Storage

With all the new energy storage formulas floating around these days, it’s fair to ask why the Army is so interested in silicon batteries. The Army Futures Command has the answer.

“As the Army modernizes the current force and prepares for multi-domain operations, the quantity and capabilities of Soldier-wearable technologies are expected to increase significantly, as will the need for power and energy sources to operate them,” AFC explains.

Staff scientists and engineers at AFC’s Combat Capabilities Development Command were attracted to silicon batteries for  the potential to save on weight while doubling the duration of the Army’s current crop of energy storage devices.

The energy storage load carried by soldiers on a 72-hour mission currently clocks in at an incredible 20.8 pounds of dead weight. Without innovative new batteries, that load will increase as the Army continues to adopt new electronic gear.

Fortunately, along come silicon batteries. The Army anticipates cutting the weight down to a more reasonable 10.4 pounds or so.

“The capabilities of these materials have been proven at the cell level to substantially increase energy capacity. We’re aiming to integrate those cells into smaller, lighter power sources for Soldiers,” explains Christopher Hurley, a lead electronics engineer the project. “Our goal is to make Soldiers more agile and lethal while increasing their survivability.”

Everybody Loves Silicon

The Army is not alone in its pursuit of silicon batteries. Last fall, General Motors made automotive history when it hooked up with the energy storage startup OneD Battery Sciences. GM describes it as the first collaboration of its kind in the auto industry.

Among other silicon-curious auto makers is Porsche AG. Last May the company led a $400 million round in Series C funding for the US firm Group14, presumably with the idea of getting first dibs on the best energy storage platform for the 2025 Boxter and Macan EVs, which have been spotted cruising around the Arctic Circle by sharp-eyed carspotters.

As for NanoGraf, if all goes according to plan the new Chicago factory will start off with a production capacity of 35 tons of silicon oxide material yearly, which is enough to produce 24 million battery cells.

That’s just for starters. By next year, NanoGraf aims to up the ante to 1,000 tons of material. That’s not a typo.

Woke, Schmoke

No story about $65 million in new private sector financing for next-generation energy storage technology is complete without a mention of the “anti-woke” canard pushed by Republicans in Congress and statehouses around the country. Regardless of what they say in public, the aim is to stymie the decarbonization movement and prevent investment dollars from flowing into clean tech.

The last time we checked, the Republican Party was supposed to be the Party of Big Business, but in recent years that appears to have gone out the window along with the bathwater.

NanoGraf, for example, has working relationships with 50 other companies and counting. The company lists “some of the world’s leading consumer electronics, household appliance, and power tool brands, and over 12 strategic partners in electric mobility (from startups to Fortune 100s).” That includes Ford and GM, too.

The co-leader in NanoGraf’s $65 million Series B round, Volta Energy Technologies, apparently did not get the anti-woke memo. NanoGraf is just one in the firm’s growing list of energy storage investments. Volta also has a research agreement with Argonne National Laboratory, which is spearheading a multi-lab consortium for silicon battery R&D.

The other co-leader, CCI, is also ignoring the part where ESG (environment, social, governance) investing is supposed to be bad for business. The firm describes itself as an investor in “businesses focused on environmental sustainability.” CCI is affiliated with the Chicago-based holding firm Henry Crown & Company, which has a long history dating back to 1919 including a stake in the construction of Rockefeller Center in 1932. Crown now describes itself as “one of the largest privately held businesses and land developers in the United States.”

Earth to Party of Big Business: Come in, please.

Follow me on Trainwreck Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Find me on LinkedIn: @TinaMCasey or Mastodon: @Casey or Post:  @tinamcasey

Photo (cropped): “Electronic warfare specialists assigned to 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, conduct radio checks before fielding new equipment. These Soldiers are fielding the new Versatile Radio Observation and Direction, or VROD, Modular A… (Photo Credit: U.S. Army).


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