Saltwater battery firm Aquion Energy goes under, files Chapter 11

Just over a week after announcing its biggest ever battery installation in Japan, the saltwater battery firm Aquion Energy on March 8 made an announcement of a rather different kind: it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“Immediately preceding the Chapter 11 filing, the company retrenched to a core R&D team by terminating approximately 80% of its personnel (several of whom have also entered into consulting agreements with the company to assist it in the sale of its assets), paused all factory operations, and stopped the marketing and selling of the products,” a company statement said.

Aquion Energy began life in 2008 when Jay Whitacre, with support from Carnegie Mellon University, produced the first Aqueous Hybrid Ion (AHI) battery.

Since then Aquion has spent a total of $190 million on honing its battery technology, which works with a saltwater electrolyte, manganese oxide cathode, carbon titanium phosphate composite anode and synthetic cotton separator.

By 2011, low-volume production of the batteries had begun and the ground was broken on a full-scale manufacturing facility in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania.

In mid-2014, Aquion began shipping its batteries commercially and had installations in Japan, South Africa, Northern Ireland and Australia, as well as California.

The team travelled far and wide to spread the word about its technology, declaring on its website: “In 2016 we attended, presented or exhibited at more than 50 different solar, energy storage and other industry events around the world. If you didn’t catch us this year, there will be just as many opportunities (if not more) to say hello in 2017!”

It had a string of well-known investors, including Bill Gates, Shell, Total, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Bright Capital.

So what went so wrong, so suddenly and so soon after the company this January won the North American Company of the Year Award from the Cleantech Group, which included Aquion in its 2017 Global Cleantech 100?

“Creating a new electrochemistry and an associated battery platform at commercial scale is extremely complex, time-consuming, and very capital-intensive,” said Stuart Pearson, the chief executive. “Despite our best efforts to fund the company and continue to fuel our growth, we have been unable to raise the growth capital needed to continue operating as a going concern.

“We believe that Aquion is the furthest along among emerging energy storage companies offering a new battery technology.  Our world-class team was able to achieve tremendous results in the past several years.”

Pearson said he was optimistic that the firm could complete an asset sale under Chapter 11 in the coming months.

The intellectual property of the firm will certainly be an interesting asset to acquire, a commentator told BESB.