London-based battery technology company, About:Energy, the creators of The Voltt software platform, which streamlines the design and development process for new batteries, have recently announced a significant £1.5 million seed investment. This infusion of funds will propel their growth in a market that may be considered niche but is projected to be worth a staggering $950 billion by the end of the decade.
The investment round attracted participation from notable entities such as Boston-based investment firm HighSage Ventures, Vireo Ventures, OakNorth Bank CEO Rishi Khosla, Plug and Play Ventures, Electric Revolution Ventures, and a host of angel investors.
In our everyday lives, we often take battery-powered devices for granted until we encounter issues with their performance. While the concept of batteries appears simple, their effectiveness can be influenced by various operational factors, including usage patterns, maintenance, age, and environmental conditions. This complexity not only makes battery design a challenging and time-consuming task but also leads to design flaws that carry substantial and unnecessary environmental consequences. Gavin White, co-founder and CEO of About:Energy, recently did an exclusive interview with TFN to shed light on the company’s vision and elaborate on the implications of this investment for their future endeavours.
Powering battery design with advanced modelling
While he initially pursued ambitions driven by petrol rather than batteries and dreamt of working in Formula 1, his path led him to study mechanical engineering at university and secure a prestigious placement at Aston Martin. However, it was during his time there that his attention shifted to a different car – the Valkyrie hypercar, a collaborative creation of Aston Martin and Red Bull advanced technologies. Reflecting on that period, he recalls, “Very fortunately, I spent the last few months there on the Valkyrie hypercar.”
This encounter with the hybrid car ignited his interest in batteries, prompting him to redirect his focus from Formula 1 back to academia. He embarked on a journey to pursue a Ph.D. at Imperial College, where he could dedicate three to four years to delve into a specific technology. Serendipitously, just a few months into his PhD, he made a groundbreaking invention, a patent for measuring a critical battery property known as thermal conductivity. Over the following two to three years, he continued to advance his research in this area.
Originally, White’s plan was to establish a company based on his research. However, fate intervened when he crossed paths with Kieran O’Regan, who was also engaged in related PhD research. Recognising the potential for collaboration, they decided to merge their efforts and jointly launch About:Energy.
The product, The Voltt, helps designers by making advanced digital models that they can test and prototype, accelerating the design process and improving the final product. “Our understanding of batteries today is still reasonably limited. We understand the core aspects of how a battery works, but the details are still very, very complicated,” White says. And constant advances make that work harder, “just as we get an understanding, new chemistries, new materials come out. The technology is developing very, very rapidly.”
The Voltt means that designers can overcome these challenges. “We centralise a lot of this difficulty with batteries by making very advanced digital models, where we capture the details and the complexities under the hood,” White explains. “Then we wrap that into very simple web tools to allow people to make more informed decisions.” It means that products can be designed to optimise not just performance, but also their environmental impact.
Making efficient design tools available to everyone who needs them
The potential of the company allowed About:Energy to be selective when it came to investors. “We spoke to 30 or 40 different investors,” White told us. “We wanted to choose a set of investors that have different skill sets. We have a composite of investors that complement each other and have the range of experience, skills, and capital that we will need over the next two to three years.”
They also selected investors who shared their sense of purpose. Rishi Khosla was an early investor and commented that he was, “excited by its focus on developing technologies needed to address global challenges such as energy security.” And that social purpose is something that’s close to White’s heart.
Although the funding will be used to support the business’s growth — they are planning to recruit both their engineering and business development teams over the next year — it’s the wider potential that first drove White. He recalls that although he was close to his dream of working in Formula 1, it wasn’t what he expected. “I realised what was missing was the social cause: putting your engineering talent to work for the good society and the planet,” he said.
So, although they are currently focusing the company on cell manufacturers, battery system developers, and automotive OEMs, he wants The Voltt to be available to anyone who needs it. “The key with The Voltt is making sure that this technology gets into the hands of as many different companies as possible,” he says. “This funding gives us over a year-and-a-half to focus on fine-tuning our product and software to make sure that it’s as usable as possible for everybody in the battery industry.”