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LMBC, developing high-capacity batteries for the electrical grid, hires EnerNOC vet Phil Giudice as first CEO

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 15, 2011 08:43 AM

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Donald Sadoway, who runs a research lab at MIT focused on "extreme electrochemistry," has a knack for the serendipitous connection.

One of the students who took Sadoway's "Introduction to Solid State Chemistry" course online was a somewhat successful software entrepreneur from Washington State who one day asked to see the professor during office hours.

On a Friday in September of 2009, Bill Gates showed up for a discussion about education. Sadoway was happy to chat, and he also told Gates about some work being done in his lab on a new kind of battery comprised of liquid metals. Gates eventually became an early investor in the spin-out company, LMBC.

And an introduction made by venture capitalist Rob Soni connected Sadoway with the executive he'd later hire to run LMBC, Phil Giudice. Giudice was the third employee of the pioneering "demand response" company EnerNOC, and after EnerNOC's IPO he served as the undersecretary of energy for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He started work at LMBC, which stands for "Liquid Metal Battery Corp.", yesterday. (In the photo, Giudice is on the left, and Sadoway is on the right.)

The eight-person start-up isn't saying much about its technology. But it uses liquified metals at high heat — about 500 degrees Celsius — as the battery's three main components, the anode, cathode, and electrolyte. By contrast, the lithium ion battery inside a laptop has an anode and cathode that are solids. LMBC believes its approach can bring down the cost and complexity of building massive battery installations, like those that might be able to store a few megawatt-hours of electricity at an industrial plant or wind generating facility. The goal would be to have a stash of electricity to use — or sell to the grid — when prices are highest.

Liquid metal batteries "are easier to assemble than conventional batteries," says chief technologist David Bradwell, "and they use earth-abundant materials." (Such as antimony and magnesium.)LMBC has licensed some intellectual property from MIT already, and has the right to license more as it is developed; Sadoway says about 20 people at his lab are still working on improvements to liquid metal batteries, using funding from the Department of Energy's ARPA-E program and other sources.

Giudice and Sadoway won't divulge how much the company raised in its seed round earlier this year, which included both Gates and the French oil company Total. But Giudice says part of his new role will involve raising additional money.

Sadoway says the company is now focused on "getting the science and engineering right," building prototype batteries that will hit the desired price, performance and reliability targets. "We view this as an engineering exercise. We're not waiting for a miracle discovery," he says.

"We're in a commodity business here," says Giudice. "The lowest cost providers win, so that's what we're shooting for."

Below is a video from Bill Gates' blog featuring LMBC and Sadoway:

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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