With Tony Fadell's help, Advano is building battery components to power an electric future

Jonathan Shieber
PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 16: Tony Fadell Inventor of the iPod and Founder and former CEO of Nest attends a conference during Viva Technology at Parc des Expositions Porte de Versailles on June 16, 2017 in Paris, France. Viva Technology is a fair that brings together, for the second year, major groups and startups around all the themes of innovation. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)

Using scrap silicon as its feedstock, a New Orleans-based company called Advano has raised $18.5 million to manufacture battery components to enable more powerful, smaller and longer-lasting batteries.

The technology was innovative enough to earn the Louisiana-based startup a place in Y Combinator's famed accelerator and has now attracted the attention of Mitsui Kinzoku, which is investing in the company as a strategic partner, and Tony Fadell, the famous product designer known as "the father of the iPod" and the founder of the smart thermostat company, Nest .

Alongside Mitsui's SBI Material Innovation Fund, Fadell's investment firm Future Shape, along with PeopleFund, Thiel Capital, Data Collective and Y Combinator, are investing $18.5 million in new financing to develop Advanos manufacturing capacity and take its silicon anode material to market.

“Adding silicon to li-ion batteries can 10x their run-time. Imagine eliminating 'range anxiety': more EVs, less CO2. But no one has been able to solve four key issues concurrently: material expansion, cycle-life, cost, and drop-in manufacturing scalability," said Fadell, in a statement. "Advano’s battery experts are the first to successfully tackle them all. In addition, Advano’s unconventional full-stack approach allows for the battery customization manufacturers require. Plus, they’re using sustainably-sourced silicon to combat the environmental effects of our transition to electric everything! Advano’s innovative work with silicon is the holy grail for batteries."

Advano reuses scrap silicon thanks to a novel materials science process that Advano founder and chief executive Alexander Girau first developed as a student at Tulane University.

Other companies, like Sila Nanotechnologies, have raised significant amounts of money to develop ways to integrate silicon into the battery production.

Sila Nano’s battery tech is now worth over $1 billion with Daimler partnership and $170 million investment

Basically, batteries consist of anodes, where current flows into a battery; electrolytes, which conduct electricity; and cathodes, where current flows out. In a lithium-ion battery, anodes are typically made using graphite, which has limitations related to how much charge it can store. By replacing graphite with silicon, batteries should be able to store more energy, requiring less material, thereby reducing cost and size, according to Advano.

Girau began his studies in molecular engineering and initially started working on gene therapies. The initial technology that the executive developed focused on creating surface functionalization in nanoparticles, allowing those particles to behave in novel ways.

The innovation was taking that research from biology and porting it over into materials science and battery development. The process typically requires several steps to create the functional nanoparticles and attach them to silicon, but Advano's founder says his company has developed a single-step process.

For Advano, the key is attaching a reactive nanoparticle to silicon scrap as those scraps are being crushed. Using that process, the company is able to produce functional silicon, according to Girau.

"We can improve the performance of any lithium-ion battery," says Girau. "We’re working with consumer electronic battery manufacturers first because the volumes are smaller and we can service those customers sooner."