A startup has raised $12 million to develop low-cost batteries based on a novel chemistry that could be deployed at data centers.

Unigrid has received the cash in a Series A funding round led by Transition VC and Ritz Venture Capital, with participation from Union Square Ventures and Foothill Ventures, an existing investor in the company.

Could sodium-ion batteries rival lithium-ion cells? – SweetBunFactory/Getty Images

A spin-out from the University of California at San Diego, Unigrid is developing advanced sodium-ion batteries. The company said it will use the funds to accelerate and scale up its battery production to “fulfill MWh-scale customer orders in the electric mobility and stationary storage markets.”

Darren Tan, CEO and co-founder of Unigrid, said: “Advanced sodium-ion batteries will be a key enabler of widespread, distributed energy storage in the residential, commercial, and industrial markets. As a technology leader in this space, Unigrid already has commercial-scale orders, and will use the funds to expand manufacturing and customer fulfillment capabilities.”

Sodium-ion batteries are cheaper to produce than lithium-ion, the most common type of cell used for energy storage and in electric vehicles. This is because the raw materials required for the batteries are much easier to procure. However, sodium-ion has so far been unable to match the densities achieved with lithium-ion, meaning they have to be larger and heavier, and require dedicated electronic control systems.

Unigrid believes it has solved this issue with a new chemistry. Tan said in an interview with TechCrunch that this is based on sodium-chromium-oxide in one half of the battery, with tin in the other. Because of this, he claims, Unigrid’s battery packs can be built to the same size as lithium-ion, offer the same power output, and be hooked up to the same electronic systems.

He added that sodium-ion batteries are less likely to go into thermal runway than their lithium-ion counterparts. Thermal runway can lead to batteries catching fire.

Tan said: “Sodium-ion should not just be like lithium-ion, it should be way safer such that we can put it in buildings, hospitals, data centers, so we can achieve widespread distributed energy storage.”

Earlier this week DCD reported on the development of another novel battery chemistry. Researchers at the University of Southampton, UK, have come up with a grid-scale battery with a water-based electrolyte which they say can be produced cheaply and is completely recyclable.