January 26, 2011 – New Canaan, CT
GM Ventures — the Venture Capital arm of General Motors — is now rapidly starting to invest its $100 million seed fund into automotive technology innovations. Earlier today, GM Ventures announced it has invested $7 million into Newark, California based battery startup Envia Systems, participating in a $17 million round, which also included Asahi Kasei, Asahi Glass, Bay Partners, Redpoint and Panagea Ventures. GM says it has also secured the rights to use Envia’s cathode materials for future GM vehicles.
Envia Systems will provide GM’s battery engineering team with access to advanced lithium-ion cathode technology that delivers higher cell energy density and lower cost. In a separate agreement, GM has secured the right to use Envia’s advanced cathode material for future GM electrically driven vehicles.
“Skeptics have suggested it would probably be many years before lithium-ion batteries with significantly lower cost and higher capability are available, potentially limiting sales of electric vehicles for the foreseeable future,” said Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures. “In fact, our announcement today demonstrates that major improvements are already on the horizon.”
Other participating investors in Envia are Asahi Kasei and Asahi Glass; as well as current investors Bay Partners, Redpoint and Panagea Ventures. The funding of the investor group totaled $17 million. “With our high-capacity manganese rich cathode material, Envia is addressing two key issues in the nextgeneration battery cells – higher capability and lower cost,” said Atul Kapadia, founding investor, chairman and CEO of Envia Systems. “The investments announced today from GM and the two new strategic investors, demonstrate the excitement around our technology, as well as the importance of the challenge.
“We believe our battery materials have taken the technology lead that will help lower price points and unlock the market potential for our customers,” Kapadia said. “With our technology and products, we believe that Envia is best-positioned to win a significant portion of this very large battery materials market.”
Envia’s advanced cathode technology uses inexpensive materials that store more energy per unit of mass than current cathode materials. Since the cathode is a key driver for the overall battery cost, the more energy the cathode delivers, the lower the battery cost because fewer cells are needed.
“Our test results on small-format cells show that Envia’s high-capacity composite cathode material can increase the energy density of lithium-ion cells by up to one-third, at an equivalent level of reliability, safety and durability,” said Micky Bly, GM executive director for Electrical and Battery Systems. “We estimate this improvement in cell energy density and less expensive material will drive a substantial reduction in cell cost, leading to lower cost battery packs like the one in the Chevy Volt.” Envia’s cathode technology also will offer benefits for other devices and applications where low-cost, high-energy density storage solutions are needed.”
The mission statement of GM Ventures is basically a spinoff of the mission statement of GM: Help GM build the best vehicles. Envia Systems can clearly help GM with that goal, given its core battery technology.
GM can also bring a lot to Envia. Lauckner explained last week that when GM starts working on the technology with a company at an early stage, GM can likely help the startup “shave the lead time off of the product development process,” by months or more. GM can also raise the profile of a startup and “de-risk the equity structure of the company,” explained Lauckner. As a bonus, automotive testing and R&D is also an expensive undertaking and GM can help startups use its facilities and expensive tools. This is all in addition to being a massive key customer, and an equity backer of the startup.
Envia already raised a $3.2 million first round of financing in 2008 and by September of 2009, a regulatory filing indicates that Envia raised the bulk of another $7.7 million Series B round. Envia also snagged a first-round $4 million grant under the Department of Energy’s high-risk energy tech fund, ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy). Working in collaboration with the Argonne National Laboratory on the DOE-backed research, Envia aims to develop a prototype of a non-graphite anode for vehicle batteries.
What all this means for Fairfield County customers remains to be seen; but from all indications, the future at GM is shaping up to be electric.