Dyson has just invested $15m (£10.2m) in Sakti3, a US startup aiming to revolutionise batteries. Before you even get into the nuts and bolts of why the technology could use a reboot, there’s one very simple thing that indicates it’s A Big Deal: it’s Sir James Dyson’s first external investment in the 22 years since he founded his eponymous vacuum cleaner company.
Sakti3, which was spun out of the University of Michigan in 2008, is developing solid state lithium-ion batteries, which it has said would be cheaper, longer-lasting, more powerful and less liable to explode in flames than current electrolyte lithium-ion ones. That is potentially huge for everything from smartphones (yep, we’ve all been there with dead batteries) to electric cars, which are struggling to gain traction with drivers worried about running about of charge.
Analysts have raised concerns the startup could struggle to move small, lab-created batteries into mass production for everything from Dyson’s hoovers to cars. Which is where the Wiltshire-based company and previous investor General Motors could come in very handy indeed – both have agreements with Sakti3 to ‘commercialise’ the technology.
‘There is a great deal of knowledge and passion on both sides, and Dyson's engineering team has the capability and the track record to scale up new ideas and make them a commercial reality,’ said Sakti3’s founder and chief exec Ann Marie Sastry, a former engineering professor who has co-authored more than 80 scientific papers and been awarded or filed 70 patents.
‘Sakti3 has achieved leaps in performance which current battery technology simply can’t,’ James Dyson said. ‘Their platform offers the potential for exponential performance gains that will supercharge the Dyson machines we know today.’
The investment, part of a $20m fundraising round on top of $50m previously raised by Sakti3, could also be a nice little money-spinner for Dyson (although the technology is probably the main, if not the only, reason – otherwise this wouldn’t be its first investment). The global market for lithium-ion batteries could more than quadruple in size from $1.7.5bn in 2013 to $76.4bn in 2020, according to consultancy Frost & Sullivan. But there are numerous companies working on the next big battery, and no one's quite sure yet which one has had the ultimate lightbulb moment.