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New player enters the intense battery tech race

A new firm helmed by energy tech and finance veterans, called Volta Energy Technologies, says it's joining the race to develop the next wave of batteries. The company announced today it's got an innovative new model for vetting and funding promising breakthroughs in battery and other storage.

Why it matters: Improvements in battery technology are key to the growing commercialization of electric vehicles, as well as power applications that can help bring large amounts of renewable power into the grid and into homes.

  • This makes batteries a key tool in the battle against global warming, because they can help decarbonize both transportation and electricity systems.

The details: Volta is led by Jeff Chamberlain, whose past work includes spending a decade leading energy storage programs at the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory — a major research lab that's working with the new firm.

  • The first two investors in Volta are utility giant Exelon and Albemarle Corp., a chemical company that's a major supplier of lithium, a key battery component. The amount of their investment was not disclosed. More investors will be announced in the future, a company representative said.

How it will work: Volta has a R&D agreement with Argonne, which is based in the Chicago area. The structure, according to the company rep, will enable use of Argonne facilities and expertise with private funds, not taxpayer dollars.

  • The idea is to provide Volta a way to validate and test technologies developed by outside entrepreneurs as the company's investors decide which products to try and bring to commercialization.

Yes, but: There's lots of competition in the battery market as government policies worldwide push EVs into the mainstream, and power companies, grid operators and others seek to blend renewables with greater storage.

  • However, Volta argues that this ability to validate and scale up new tech by working with Argonne will help give the new firm an edge over traditional venture capital firms and other investment vehicles.
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