Updated April 5, 2017 at 1:00 pm. A representative from Dyson contacted us and asked that the following statement from the company be added to this article.
“Dyson is more focused than ever on energy storage solutions, which includes developing new intellectual property with the Sakti3 team. We currently own 94 Sakti3 patents and patents pending protecting those developments. The three patents in question pre-date Dyson’s purchase of Satki3 and are therefore owned by the University of Michigan. The related IP has been superseded with better technology and is no longer important to our aims, so we are not renewing the license. We remain committed to investing £1bn in battery technology over the coming years, and Sakti3 is an essential and exciting part of that program.”
Just 18 months ago, Dyson, the British maker of bladeless fans and ridiculously expensive vacuum cleaners, shelled out $90 million to acquire Sakti3, a super secretive battery company based on patents held by the University of Michigan. Sakti3 claimed years ago that it had developed a solid-state lithium battery that is less expensive than a conventional lithium-ion battery and has double the power density. It also won’t explode or burst into flames the way a conventional battery can. (See: Samsung Galaxy Note 7.) However, none of its claims have ever been proven publicly in the real world and the company has been reluctant to allow outsiders to independently validate its technology. The Dyson Sakti3 battery deal has now been abandoned, says a report in Quartz.
Dyson claimed it was going to build a $1 billion factory to manufacture batteries for electronics and eventually electric cars. James Dyson said at the time that the Sakti3 battery could end up being worth more than his entire company. The deal included annual licensing fees to the University of Michigan, which controls some of the patents essential to the Sakti3 battery. Dyson has now informed the university that it is cancelling the licensing agreement.
What all this means is unclear. Neither Dyson nor Sakti3 founder Ann Marie Sastry have responded to requests for information from Quartz. That lack of response leads Quartz to speculate that some new technology has arisen that has made the Sakti3 patents obsolete, but it finds that scenario extremely unlikely.
Quartz has been extremely skeptical of the Sakti3 story in the past. Today, it says, “Sastry’s intense secrecy, her failure to publicly or privately document her claims of enormous breakthroughs in her company’s solid-state battery work, and the belief by former senior Sakti3 executives that the company had achieved few tangible advances” all point to a probable lack of commercial viability for the technology Dyson bought.
Fabio Albano, who was instrumental in creating the foundation for Sakti3’s patents, told Quartz that the patent licensing fee was based on a scale. They are designed to increase each year to encourage commercialization of the underlying intellectual property. “If you don’t have revenues from a patent, you kill it,” Albano said.
And so the search for the theoretical “super battery” continues. Laboratories and corporations around the world are investing billions in research to find the next new thing in batteries, the breakthrough that will make smaller, lighter, more powerful batteries that are also significantly less expensive. The sentimental favorite is still John Goodenough, the 93-year-old researcher who is the father of the lithium-ion battery and has dedicated his life to making it better.