On April 26, the company announced it had closed a $12 million Series A funding round it will use to accelerate the commercialization of its patented Liquefied Gas Electrolyte (LiGas) technology for high-performance batteries in electric vehicle, grid storage, aerospace and defense applications.
The financing was led by Anzu Partners with participation from LG Technology Ventures, Shell Ventures, Foothill Ventures and Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corporation (TNSC).
South 8’s LiGas electrolyte technology is a unique approach to next-generation lithium batteries that addresses shortcomings of existing liquid electrolyte and solid-state batteries that are still under development. The liquified gas brings more safety and efficiency to batteries and can be applied to current manufacturing practices and materials.
Rustomji developed the technology while looking to create a low temperature battery device as a part of his doctorate studies at UC San Diego.
“The problem with normal batteries is liquids freeze at low temperatures,” he said. “And so what materials don’t freeze at low temperatures? Gasses seemed a pretty good candidate for that.”
Rustomji, along with South 8 CTO Jungwoo Lee, experimented with gas mixtures that would liquify under moderate pressure, like the pressure used on propane for barbeque grill tanks.
“I had a dream of having these batteries put on Mars or Jupiter one day for NASA applications – that’d be pretty cool,” Rustomji said.
In addition to potentially being useful in the cold vacuum of space, the two researchers discovered liquified gas electrolytes were not just good at low temperatures, but also at high temperatures and a offered a host of other benefits including improved battery safety and power.
“Right now, batteries use a liquid-based electrolyte which is flammable. What we do is replace that flammable liquid electrolyte with a non-flammable gas,” Lee said. “In addition, under abuse conditions [like a puncture or break], our liquified gas electrolyte leaves the battery. And once it’s, gone you’re left behind with just blank materials with nothing to conduct for any reaction.”
More Power, Lower Cost
Liquified gas electrolytes can also improve a battery’s performance, Rustomji said, because the gas mixture is extremely stable at higher voltages “which allows for utilization of all these high-energy materials that people want to use but they simply don’t have the electrolytes compatible with those components today.”
Rustomji added that battery technology is in need of transformation to match the power needs of today’s larger applications.
“Lithium-ion batteries were initially developed for small electronic devices and were not meant to scale up to EVs or grid storage,” he said. “It’s kind of like trying to run a marathon in denim. You just don’t get the performance you need out of them.
South 8’s technology can scale into larger applications and also lower the nickel and cobalt used in batteries and “significantly lower the cost of these cells” – from roughly $100 per kwh today to roughly $70 per kwh “in the near future,” he said.
And to achieve these improvements in safety, power and cost, the South 8 liquified gas won’t require overhauling existing processes.
“We found we can actually integrate these things into common manufacturing that is used today so it can be done at a very low cost,” Lee said. “All the gasses we are using are industrially manufactured already around the world. So we’re not inventing a new supply chain or manufacturing techniques. We’re able to integrate this technology into the battery infrastructure available already.”
South 8 plans on using its Series A financing to grow its team, continue product development and expand intellectual property portfolio, Rustomji said.
“And we currently are sampling a variety of prototypes over to a variety of customers throughout the market to demonstrate the technology in their hands, get traction from our customers,” he said.Getting the technology in front of and demonstrating it for major companies is important for the company’s business model, which is to eventually license the tech to mass manufacturing companies like Panasonic and LG for a variety of markets.
South 8 Technologies
CEO: Cyrus Rustomji
Business: Liquified gas electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries
Headquarters: San Diego
Notable: LiGas batteries can perform in extreme climates at temperatures as low -60 °C and up to +60°C.