Sakuu Blog

Employee Spotlight: Karl Littau CTO

Sakuu CTO Karl Littau possesses rare expertise at the confluence of chemical and materials science application — and core manufacturing industry insight — that make him uniquely well-suited for his role in enabling battery innovation at commercial scale.

Karl received his B.S. in Chemistry at UC Berkeley and his doctorate in Physical Chemistry at Stanford. “I’m a chemist by training, but a physical chemist.” Karl says. “The old joke is that we’re not not ‘real’ chemists. Physicists think we’re chemists and chemists think we’re physicists. So nobody wants to claim us!” 


But the “unclaimed” overlapping space shared by those disciplines is part of what makes Karl a perfect fit for Sakuu. To paraphrase the Liam Neeson meme, Karl has a very particular set of skills acquired over a very long career — and those skills are all key to unlocking the future of manufacturing capability in a world racing to embrace electrification.

Sakuu provides commercial-scale printing equipment and technologies to the battery industry. Our revolutionary dry-process platforms enable rapid and cost-effective innovation in the manufacturing process while reducing waste. The company is built on a valuable combination of technologies that ingeniously solve a combination of challenges facing today’s OEMs. 

Karl’s unique professional experience is relevant to all of it.

At the start of his career, Karl pursued spectroscopy postdoctoral work at Bell Labs before joining Applied Materials, which specializes in creating manufacturing equipment for semiconductor behemoths such as Intel, Samsung, and TSMC. 

“I got into materials pretty much right after graduating, which I found incredibly interesting. My work at Applied Materials was instructive because it taught me the real-world parameters of what has to go into creating manufacturing equipment. You can’t have a technology in the battery space, for example, that takes a $100 battery and turns it into a $1,000 battery just for the sake of a minimal performance improvement. That doesn’t make sense. So you have to be able to combine something that is an impactful technology with something that you can scale, and actually make it competitive.”


After his time at Applied Materials, Karl moved on to the storied Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). “PARC was great because it introduced me to a world of devices — and exposed what is necessary to make interesting active devices, including things like photovoltaic solar cells and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) batteries.”

“And being a part of Xerox, we got to apply its namesake expertise in printing. It turns out that all of that print technology developed for documents is also useful for creative endeavors it was never originally intended for — such as batteries.”

After a decade at PARC, Karl did some thermionic-based energy conversion research on cathode and anode materials,  prototyping devices for solar power generation at Stanford’s Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials. He then moved on to Intermolecular, which is a material science company, where he employed advanced techniques to make discoveries and new materials for applications in semiconductors, photovoltaics, energy storage, and batteries.

“So when the opportunity to join Sakuu came along,” Karl explains, “I couldn't really say no. It was almost perfect because it really combined all the aspects of everything that I had done in my career.”

“If you’re taking something like applying print technology to battery production, the Venn diagram of people who really understand batteries and those who really understand printing form two circles that don’t typically overlap. Subject matter experts tend to be fairly narrow and necessarily very deep in their field. But that can make it hard to spot opportunities from areas they’re not familiar with. Personally, that’s where I’ve had a lot of success in my career — having experience in a wide range of different areas and looking for opportunities to apply one technology to another in a way that people haven’t before.”

“At a high level, what we’re doing is based on this already proven technology,” Karl continues. “ Our ability to fabricate battery electrodes out of dry powder leverages established practice in the printing and additive manufacturing world. Obviously, the requirements are different. We have to formulate the dry powder that will make a good battery, be able to print it, and then fuse it to the substrate, and deliver a battery that performs. But being able to take what’s already developed and actually proven in production for decades removes a lot of risk and shortens development time. And using established methodology and applying it to something new — like batteries — it’s a huge opportunity and it’s super powerful.”

Karl believes that’s a true strength in Sakuu. “We have done really well in applying additive manufacturing to battery technology. We have world-class researchers and engineers in electrochemistry, as well as materials science, process technology, hardware, and software. And we bring all of that together and align it.”

Sakuu’s biggest competition in the battery manufacturing industry is simply entrenched, established technology. “It’s not so much other new technologies that are our competitors. It’s really the status quo that we’re up against — and that needs to be displaced with more powerful and effective alternatives,” he says.

Karl addresses this need with understanding gleaned from experience. “No industry is going to tolerate a ‘new’ technology like printing, even with the advantages of a dry process, if it makes a battery that does not perform at least as well, if not better, and deliver other benefits. For example, it has to work with existing materials. The material sets people are using for making lithium-ion batteries today are highly optimized. So that was a major driver for the dry process technology that we’ve developed at Sakuu. It can use exactly the same material set that people use today, so our clients don’t need to qualify a new material set and can continue using their standard. We’ve formulated the same materials in a way that they are printable to take advantage of our dry process. And if and when they choose, the client still has the flexibility to then develop new materials that might be even better than what they're using today. So they can start with well-known and established material technology and then continue to use our manufacturing equipment and technology to develop tomorrow’s. It has to work now and also be extensible.”


As CTO at Sakuu, Karl gets to leverage all of his scientific and professional expertise and interests. And what he’s achieving makes him excited about the future. “The most exciting thing about our technology is what it will enable down the road. Printing batteries allows us to make batteries in a different way — and actually make batteries that have properties that are just not really possible in traditional manufacturing methods.” 

Sakuu technology introduces potential for lighter and more energy-dense batteries that don’t require expensive materials such as copper, or battery manufacturing writ large that no longer requires toxic binders or solvents. 

“Our ability to print just unlocks a lot of directions that you can go in materials science and in battery architecture, design, and construction,” Karl says. “And it's impactful for me from a systems perspective, for us as a society, and even as a planet. That’s really good, too! I'm really happy to be able to have that kind of impact.”

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