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Building batteries that don't explode

Nanoexa's software is designed to create safer, cheaper, more durable lithium-ion batteries.

Driven by fears of laptops and cell phones spontaneously bursting into flames, the U.S. government this year banned checking loose lithium batteries in luggage on flights. But that won't be an issue if Nanoexa has its way.

The company is taking a closer look at lithium-ion batteries to design a better, more stable breed. It's eyeing the growing energy storage market, especially for batteries used in hybrid and electric cars.

Nanoexa's software examines the ingredients of batteries at the atomic level. Computer modeling scrutinizes the contents, such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel, to determine the safest and cheapest combination.

The goal is to get highly stable electrodes to ensure that batteries won't explode, with novel combinations of cathode and anode materials improving efficiency and dropping costs, according to the company.

"It's high power, lower price," said Richard D'sa, Nanoexa's chief operating officer, at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco Tuesday.

For instance, Nanoexa has figured out how to cut the use of cobalt and the cost of nickel in batteries by two-thirds. What might take decades to formulate in a chemical lab can be perfected in a matter of years with computer modeling, he added.

Nanoexa's batteries for power tools can last between 350 to 500 cycles and have reached 1,000 cycles for coin batteries, the type used in digital watches, D'sa said. And now the challenge is to get bigger batteries for vehicles that will last 1,000 cycles.

The self-funded company, based in Burlingame, Calif., earned $2.9 million in the last year and is seeking $50 million.

It has licensed technology from the Department of Energy and has partnered with Argonne National Laboratory.

Nanostellar, co-founded by Nanoexa CEO Michael Pak, has used computer modeling to cut the use of platinum in catalytic converters by 20 percent.