There’s an open secret in the battery startup world — everyone is pitching their cells as the ones to spur consumers to ditch their gas-guzzling SUVs for sleek, fast-charging electric vehicles with cross-country range, even if they’re really eyeing something else. Sure, some companies will leapfrog the steady 5% annual improvements that lithium-ion batteries have been making over the last several years. (Most won’t, but that shouldn’t stop companies from trying!)
Sometimes, though, the EV pitch is just that — a pitch. Battery startups are almost obligated to note it in their press releases and pitch decks. Investors love the potential for growth that EVs represent, and startups would be remiss if they didn’t at least mention the enormous potential market.
As investors have realized the boundless potential of the EV market, money has been pouring into battery startups. In the last five years alone, $42 billion in venture capital and growth equity have been invested in the sector, according to a TechCrunch and PitchBook analysis.
Still, EVs are just one part of the story. The reality is that because batteries have improved radically in the last decade, startups like Form Energy and EcoFlow no longer have to pretend that they’re going to be the Next Big Thing in electrified mobility. Rather, they can acknowledge that they have far more potential to disrupt other parts of the economy.
One of the latest examples is Natron Energy. Natron was founded a decade ago after its CEO, Colin Wessells, came up with a battery that instead of nickel or cobalt used Prussian blue — the pigment that revolutionized the art world in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Other researchers had explored Prussian blue’s use in batteries for decades, but Wessells found a way to make a commercially viable cell using a version of the pigment coupled with a sodium-based electrolyte. Perhaps more important than what materials it uses are those it doesn’t — lithium, cobalt, nickel or other rare materials whose prices have skyrocketed in the last year.
But apart from a brief, almost vestigial mention of EVs in a recent press release, Natron recognizes that the strength of its cells lies in other markets and has focused the company accordingly.