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Pass the salt: the startup making alternative grid batteries from iron and table salt

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Large sodium metal halide battery cell
Large sodium metal halide battery cell // Image Credit: Inlyte Energy

According to California-based Inlyte Energy, although renewables like wind and solar are now cheaper than fossil fuels, affordable energy storage remains an obstacle to the clean energy transition because, not only are solar and wind intermittent but as the grid is forecasted to grow, storage needs to grow with it. Last month, the United States set a new record in energy storage, putting its strongest quarter ever in the books, but to keep this momentum, storage needs to be less expensive.

“Inexpensive storage is what will truly make wind and solar a competitive total solution versus fossil fuels, not just in California but everywhere in the world,” Antonio Baclig, the founder and CEO of InLyte said in a statement.

“Conventional sodium metal halide batteries, made from nickel and salt, were developed for electric vehicles in the 1980s and '90s but never made it down the cost curve” he added, “At Stanford, I realized that by optimizing that design for the grid instead of for vehicles, and by using iron instead of nickel, we could drive the cost incredibly low.”

Last week, the startup, which was born in partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, closed an $8 million seed round led by At One Ventures, with participation from First Spark Ventures, Valo Ventures, TechEnergy Ventures, Climate Capital, and Anglo American.

The startup plans to use the money to develop the first generation of its batteries made from nickel and table salt, which the startup claims, will be less expensive than the conventional lithium-ion batteries, with enhanced safety, long lifetimes, high efficiency, and competitive storage that meets the needs of the grid and the climate crisis.

According to Laurie Menoud, a founding partner at At One Ventures, “Inlyte's ability to compete with lithium-ion on lifetime, round-trip efficiency, and of course upfront cost also gives them a significant opportunity in a market that's exploding right now.”

Inlyte is building off tech from the United Kingdom battery maker Beta Research, which it acquired last November.

Unlike lithium-ion batteries, iron and salt batteries can operate in extreme temperatures, hot or cold, which the startup says makes them ideal for places with increasingly high temperatures as the planet warms. On top of its locational benefits, the startup also points to the battery’s storage duration of 4-10 hours, with 4 hours being the minimum requirement for a grid-scale battery. If that wasn’t enough, the startup also points to another significant advantage: unlike lithium-ion sodium-nickel batteries have no risk to fire.

While new battery chemistry can typically take decades to commercialize — it took about two decades to commercialize the lithium-ion battery — in the coming months, the startup plans to engage with its pilot customers. In the coming years, the company plans to launch a U.S.-based factory with hopes to take advantage of incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act.

“At the end of the day, solutions for the climate crisis are beholden to economics for both companies and countries, and we would have chosen this design and these materials on that basis alone – but there are so many other benefits as well,” Baclig said in a statement.

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