Cadenza Innovation has developed a new design that improves the performance, cost and safety of large lithium-ion batteries. Now, with an unusual strategy for spreading the technology, the company is poised to make an impact on industries such as energy grid storage, industrial machines and electric vehicles.
Cadenza does not manufacture batteries, but licenses its technology to manufacturers who produce batteries for different applications. The company also works with licensees to optimize their production processes and sell new batteries to end users. The strategy ensures that the 4-year-old company's technology is deployed faster and more widely than it would otherwise.
Cadenza founder Christina Lampe-Onnerud, a former postdoc at MIT and a veteran of the battery industry, aims to help drive the industry as global demand for batteries reaches an inflection point.
"At the time [the company's] crazy idea was to see if there was a different way to engage with the industry and help it embrace a new technology in an existing application, like a car or a computer," Lampe-Onnerud said. The idea is that if we really want to make an impact, we can incentivize the industry to use existing capital to get better technology in the global market and be an active part of this climate-changing space.”
With this lofty goal in mind, the Connecticut-based company has partnered with organizations at all levels of the battery supply chain, including suppliers to industrial minerals, original equipment manufacturers and end users. Cadenza demonstrated its proprietary "supercell" battery architecture in Fiat's 500e model, and is completing a demonstration energy storage system for the New York Power Authority (NPA), the largest state-owned utility in the United States. ) are used when energy demand is at its peak.
The company's most significant partnership to date, though, was announced in September with Shenzhen BAK Battery Co., one of the world's largest manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries. The two companies announced that BAK will begin mass production of batteries based on the Cadenza supercell architecture in the first half of 2019.
Award-winning supercell architecture
Lampe-Onnerud's extensive exposure to lithium-ion batteries and a world-renowned technical team hastened Cadenza's rise, but the underlying driver of the company's success is simple: its technology has proven to provide manufacturers with higher battery energy densities , while reducing production costs.
Most rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are powered by cylindrical pieces of metal known as "jelly rolls." In large batteries, jelly rolls can be made large enough to limit the overall cost of the battery assembly, or small enough to take advantage of more efficient battery designs for higher energy densities. Many electric vehicle (EV) companies use large jelly rolls to avoid durability and safety issues that arise from packing small jelly rolls tightly into batteries. If one jelly roll overheats, it can cause the failure of the entire battery.
Tesla is famous for using small jelly rolls in its batteries, solving safety concerns with cooling tubes, complex circuitry, and spacing each roll for longer driving distances. But Cadenza has patented a simpler battery system, dubbed a "superbattery," that allows small jelly rolls to be tightly packed into a module.
The key to the supercell is a non-combustible ceramic fiber material, and each jelly roll is held together like eggs in a carton. This material helps control the temperature of the entire battery, isolating damage from overheated jelly rolls. Metal shunts wrapped around each jelly-roll and the fire-retardant layer of the supercell walls, reducing stress in the event of a thermal event, add to its safety advantages.
The enhanced safety allows Cadenza to pack the jelly tightly, increasing energy density, while the supercell's simple design utilizes many components currently produced at low cost and in high volumes, reducing production costs. Finally, each supercell module is designed to click like Lego bricks, making it easy for manufacturers to adjust the size of the battery to meet customer needs.
Cadenza's safety, cost and performance characteristics were validated in a grant program with the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which began in 2013 and cost the company nearly $400 million to test the architecture.
When the supercell architecture was unveiled publicly in 2016, Lampe-Onnerud said: "It could be used to increase the range of Tesla vehicles by 70 percent, making headlines. Now the goal is to get manufacturers to adopt the architecture." .”
Lampe-Onnerud said: "There will be a lot of winners using this technology, and we know we can deliver on the (safety, performance and cost) requirements. It's up to licensees to decide how they take advantage of these."
At MIT, "Data Talks"
Lampe-Onnerud and her husband, Per Onnerud, served as Cadenza's chief technology officer and held postdoctoral positions at MIT before completing their Ph.D.s at Uppsala University in their home country. Lampe-Onnerud works closely with MIT professors of materials science and mathematics on laboratory work in inorganic chemistry, and Onnerud conducts research work in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The experience left a deep impression on Lampe-Onnerud.
"MIT was a very formative experience," she said. "You learn how to make an argument so the data can speak. You just enable the data; you don't need to elaborate. MIT has a Special location."
Since then, Lampe-Onnerud has maintained close ties to the Faculty, participating in alumni associations, giving guest lectures on campus, and serving on the visiting committee of MIT’s Department of Corporate Chemistry—all in her Notable success in career.
Lampe-Onnerud founded Boston-Power in 2004. She became an internationally renowned manufacturer of batteries for consumer electronics, automotive and industrial applications, while serving as CEO, before the company relocated operations to China in 2012. In the early days of the company, more than seven years after Lampe-Onnerud completed her postdoctoral work, she recognized the persistence of support from the MIT community.
Lampe-Onnerud said: "We started looking for some angel investors, and the first group to respond was MIT affiliated angel investors, and we supported each other because we tend to be drawn to tough problems. It was very much in line with MIT's The spirit of the Provincial Institute of Technology: We know that if we are going to solve big problems, it will be difficult. So we like to collaborate.”
Her high-profile career at Boston Electric has earned her awards including the World Economic Forum's Technology Pioneer Award and the Swedish Woman of the Year award from the Swedish Women's Education Association. This is also the reason why some consider her the "Queen of Batteries".
Fresh out of Boston-Power, Lampe-Onnerud and her husband began designing Cadenza's supercell in their garage. They want to create a solution to help lower the world's carbon footprint, but they estimate that if they make their own batteries, they can make at most 1 billion batteries every 18 months. So they decided to switch to a technology licensing approach.
From a business standpoint, this strategy has trade-offs: Cadenza will need to raise significantly less capital than Boston-Power, but it will allow the licensee to generate a top line while taking a percentage of sales and bottom-end growth. Lampe-Onnerud is clearly happy to leverage her global network and share the benefits, maximizing Cadenza's reach.
"My hope is that we'll be able to bring people together around this technology to do something that really matters, like reducing carbon usage, eliminating nitrogen oxide emissions, or making the grid more efficient," Lampe-Onnerud said. Different ways of working together, so when one element of the ecosystem wins, we all win. It's been an inspiring process."