LONDON – LightSail Energy Inc., a 2009 startup developing energy storage based on compressed air, has raised $37.3 million in its latest funding round led by Bill Gates, Peter Thiel, Khosla Ventures, Innovacorp and others.
LightSail (Berkeley, Calif.) is based on the scientific advances by Danielle Fong, chief
scientist and co-founder. Fong is a graduate student at
Princeton University where she began work on her PhD at the age of 17.
Lightsail is attempting to apply thermodynamics to develop energy storage based on compressed air. Energy is recovered when air expands, and proponents argue that deployment of the technology on a megawatt scale is expected to provide economical energy storage for use alongside wind and solar farms.
The latest round of funding reportedly takes LightSail's total raised so far to over $52 million.
The investment round will allow LightSail to "bring its first grid-scale energy storage products to market," Steve Crane, co-founder and CEO of LightSail Energy, said in a statement.
The startup claims its thermodynamics technology "works at scale" and that the new funding puts in a position to deliver renewable energy locally and more cheaply than large, centralized fossil fuel-based power generation. "We want to democratize energy," Crane added.
"When deployed, LightSail's technology would reduce the need for transmission line investment, peaker power plants, and make renewable energy practical and mainstream for the first time," Vinod Khosla, founding partner of Khosla Ventures, said in the same statement. Danielle Fong, chief scientific officer at LightSail Energy
LightSail's said its technology is able to use electrical energy to compress air and then reverse the process to deliver power when it's needed. During the compression phase, water is sprayed into the pressurized air, absorbing heat produced by the mechanical process. The hot water is stored. After expansion, water is again sprayed into the expanding atmosphere and the resulting energy is used to drive the expansion.
LightSail claims that the round trip from grid to storage and back to grid is 70 percent efficient.
The startup proposes that compressed air be stored in shipping container-lie tanks. The tanks could then be linked via pipes to form storage farms. The company's first product, the RAES-V1, is scheduled to begin shipping in the fourth quarter of 2013.
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