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Bill Gates Invests in Battery Maker Aquion Energy

Billionaire Carlos Slim Tout

Bill Gates, the world’s second-richest man, has invested in battery maker Aquion Energy Inc. in his third bet on an energy storage startup since 2011.

The closely held company completed the first closing for a $35 million Series D financing round that included Gates as a new investor, according to a statement today. Aquion Chief Executive Officer Scott Pearson declined to say how much Gates invested or how the startup got the personal attention of the Microsoft Inc. co-founder and chairman, who also invests via his fund Cascade Investment LLC.

Aquion, based in Pittsburgh and founded in 2008, is developing batteries that can store power for stationary applications, like supplying backup electricity when wind or solar projects aren’t available. The batteries use saltwater, not acid or alkaline, to conduct electricity and are “environmentally benign,” according to the company’s website. The technology is based on research by a Carnegie Mellon University professor.

“These batteries are not flammable, they’re not explosive and they’re not corrosive,” Pearson said in a phone interview today. Aquion expects to begin commercial production in the fourth quarter at its factory east of Pittsburgh that will make batteries totaling at least 500 megawatt-hours of storage capacity a year, he said.

He declined to provide the expected cost per kilowatt-hour.

Bright Capital, a Moscow-based venture investor, led the Series D round, which also included Gentry Venture Partners as a new investor. Existing backers Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Foundation Capital and Advanced Technology Ventures participated again, Aquion said.

Gates has also invested in energy storage startups LightSail Energy Inc. and Ambri Inc., formerly Liquid Metal Battery Corp., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Carlos Slim is the world’s wealthiest individual, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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