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Cuberg CEO Richard Wang
Cuberg co-founder and CEO Richard Wang holds up one of the company’s original battery designs. (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Photo / Marilyn Chung)

Boeing’s HorizonX venture investment team says it has led a seed funding round for Cuberg, a California startup focusing on next-generation battery technology for potential aerospace and industrial applications.

Among the most relevant applications would be power storage for electric airplanes and underwater drones — both of which are in Boeing’s wheelhouse.

“Cuberg’s battery technology has some of the highest energy density we’ve seen in the marketplace, and its unique chemistries could prove to be a safe, stable solution for future electric air transportation,” Steve Nordlund, vice president of Boeing HorizonX, said today in a statement.

Berkeley-based Cuberg was founded in 2015 by former Stanford University researchers with an assist from Cyclotron Road, an energy technology incubator at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Although Boeing declined to specify the amount of its investment, Cyclotron Road’s Sebastien Lounis said the round brought Cuberg’s total grant funding and investment to $3.3 million.

Lounis said a previous seed round raised $900,000, which suggests this new round is in the neighborhood of $2 million. That ballpark figure was confirmed by Richard Wang, Cuberg’s co-founder and CEO.

Joining Boeing HorizonX in this second seed round is HPC Energy Services, a Canadian integrated oil and gas product and service company. HPC invested in the first seed round, and intends to use Cuberg’s technology in power systems for down-the-hole drilling rigs, Wang said.

“They’re looking to us for a stable and reliable solution for that application,” he told GeekWire.

Cuberg says it has developed an advanced battery cell that’s designed to be a drop-in solution for existing large-scale battery manufacturing processes. The technology combines an ultra-lightweight lithium metal anode, a proprietary electrolyte and a high-voltage cathode to achieve high energy density and thermal durability.

Wang said the potential applications go far beyond oil and gas exploration. In the defense realm, the technology could be incorporated into portable energy storage systems for warfighters, or for undersea drones, he said. (Boeing and its Liquid Robotics subsidiary build several types of oceangoing drones.)

Cuberg’s technology could also be incorporated into implantable medical devices, Wang said. But the application of most interest to Boeing is electric airplane propulsion. Boeing has previously invested in Zunum Aero, a Kirkland, Wash.-based venture that’s working on a new breed of hybrid electric aircraft.

Wang said lithium-ion batteries are typically too heavy to do what needs to be done for electric propulsion. Cuberg’s technology aims to boost energy density to levels that would bring electric airplanes within closer reach.

Cuberg currently has only four full-time employees, but Wang said the new funding will help the company expand. “Bigger space, more employees, more development efforts,” he told GeekWire.

Boeing said the funding for Cuberg represents HorizonX Ventures’ first investment in an energy storage company since the fund was established last April. In addition to Cuberg and Zunum Aero, the companies in HorizonX’s portfolio include:

  • Gamma Alloys, developing next-generation aluminum alloys that may show up one day in Boeing’s airplanes.
  • Near Earth Autonomy, offering technologies for autonomous flight.
  • C360, leveraging augmented reality and virtual reality for immersive videos.
  • Upskill, providing augmented-reality solutions for industrial settings.
  • SparkCognition, focusing on artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

Update for 12:25 p.m. PT Jan. 29: An earlier version of this story made assumptions about the size of the current funding round based on a previous seed round, but those assumptions didn’t account for grant funding. The estimate has been revised accordingly.

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