Aquion, the Advanced Battery Startup Funded by Bill Gates and Kleiner Perkins, Is Bankrupt
Today, shortly after receiving an award from the Cleantech Group for North American company of the year (yet another kiss of death), Aquion declared bankruptcy.
Aquion raised a total of $190 million in venture capital and debt for its saltwater batteries intended for long-duration storage. The company also raised a lot of hype.
The startup just “filed a voluntary petition under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court of the District of Delaware. Immediately preceding the Chapter 11 filing, the Company retrenched to a core R&D team by terminating approximately 80 percent of its personnel (several of whom have also entered into consulting agreements with the Company to assist it in the sale of its assets), paused all factory operations, and stopped the marketing and selling of its products.”
After spending $190 million and making bold promises, outgoing CEO Scott Pearson had this to say:
“Creating a new electrochemistry and an associated battery platform at commercial scale is extremely complex, time-consuming, and very capital-intensive. Despite our best efforts to fund the company and continue to fuel our growth, the Company has been unable to raise the growth capital needed to continue operating as a going concern.”
“In the coming weeks, Aquion will be working to secure a bidder to purchase substantially all of its operating assets.”
Having an impressive list of investors just doesn’t translate to market success. Aquion’s investors included Bill Gates, Gentry Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Foundation Capital, Bright Capital, Advanced Technology Ventures, Trinity Capital Investment and CapX Partners, Yung’s Enterprise, and Nick and Joby Pritzker.
Bill Gates is also an investor in LightSail Energy, the challenged compressed-air startup, and Ambri, the liquid metal battery project from MIT professor Don Sadoway.
Not so long ago, the company told GTM’s Stephen Lacey, “The Aquion business and the energy storage market continue to develop well. The funds will support continued scaling of the business, the expansion of our product offerings, and new customer deployments worldwide.”
Aquion’s sodium-ion battery was designed for multi-hour applications. According to the company, its batteries could deliver a round-trip efficiency of 85 percent and perform 5,000 cycles. The company’s cost target was $250 per kilowatt-hour, with the goal of getting to $160 per kilowatt-hour.
While short-duration lithium-ion batteries are dominating the market, investors are increasingly interested in batteries that can discharge over long periods of time.
As Jeff St. John reported last year, Aquion supplied “what could be the biggest battery ever ordered up by a private citizen” — a 1-megawatt-hour system, backing up the residence and working farm of Medtronic founder Earl Bakken. And Aquion just announced a microgrid installation at an organic winery and farm in Sonoma, Calif. that combines fourteen 25-kilowatt-hour Aquion batteries (approximately 350 kilowatt-hours of energy storage) with a 30-kilowatt power conversion system from Ideal Power and a 32-kilowatt solar system.