Bill Gates has given financial backing to the development of a new energy storage system aimed at cutting the intermittency of renewable energy technologies such as solar.
The billionaire Microsoft founder has been named as one of a number of backers who are collectively investing $35 million in Aquion energy, a Pittsburgh-based clean-tech firm that is developing a new water-based battery system.
Aquion claims that by using non-toxic materials such as saltwater, its Aqueous Hybrid Ion batteries are a cheap and environmentally neutral alternative to other energy storage systems on the market, which use potentially hazardous chemicals.
The company said the technology had been specifically developed for small and large-scale stationary energy storage applications. This would include solar and other forms of renewable energy generation, where intermittency of supply can be a problem.
The financing round led by Bright Capital has secured Gates and Gentry Venture Partners as new investors and return investments from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Foundation Capital and Advanced Technology Ventures.
Gates’ backing for the system is understood to be his third clean-tech investment.
Mikhail Chuchkevich, managing director of Bright Capital, said: “Aquion has demonstrated the viability and potential disruptiveness of its novel energy storage technology. We expect Aquion’s products to be a key enabler for the emerging energy storage industry that many experts predict will grow exponentially in the next decade,”
Scott Pearson, CEO of Aquion commented: “We are very pleased to have attracted such a strong set of new investors to complement our existing backers. The Aquion team is very excited about launching our initial storage products later this year and beginning to ramp the business in 2014 and beyond.”
Aquion said it would deliver initial, pre-production units to selected customers throughout 2013 and begin shipping production units from its high-volume manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania at the end of this year.
The development of efficient storage technology is seen as a critical next step in the roll out of renewable energy, particularly with feed-in tariffs facing cuts in many countries.
Recent studies have suggested the global energy storage market will grow rapidly in the coming years, driven by increasing amount of renewable generation coming online.