Futurized goes beneath the trends to track the underlying forces of disruption in tech policy, business models, social dynamics, and the environment. I’m your host Trond Arne Undheim, futurist and author. In episode 21 of the podcast, the topic is: What’s next in energy storage. Our guest is Joe Adiletta, senior director at Ionic Materials, the battery storage startup spun out of Tufts University. We talk about the technologies behind energy storage. We discussed promising startups into EV, grid and emerging electric aviation space. Where is the field going? Will there be a Cambrian moment where growth will accelerate? Is that in this decade or the next? We also discuss the emerging market opportunity in India.
Joe Adiletta is BU Senior Director – Beyond Lithium at Ionic Materials, Inc. Has worked for 24m, Liquiglide, Digital Lumens, and A123 Systems. He has an MBA degree from MIT Sloan and an Engineering degree from Cornell.
Trond Arne Undheim (00:48):
Joe, how are you doing?
Trond Arne Undheim (00:50):
I’m great. How are you? Thanks for having me on,
Trond Arne Undheim (00:53):
Yeah, it’s exciting, exciting times too, to talk about anything related to the future. So today we are going to talk a little bit about energy storage, innovation and the whole issue around batteries. And, you know, what’s really happened over the past decade and, and where the field is going. But before we get into that, Joe, I mean, you’re kind of an all around hand in energy storage. You’ve been through 24 M, LiquiGlide, Digital Lumens and A123 Systems. Some of those directly, you know, in the space, others, in some other exciting fields, you have an MBA from MIT Sloan, but you have your engineering degrees from Cornell. Tell me, I think this background is definitely fascinating for talking about something where industry and academia, you know, clearly both play an interesting role, but if you just look back at these years, what is the experience that has touched you the most and you kind of the most reminded of as you are in your current stage, in your career?
- 24M https://24-m.com/
- Liquiglide https://liquiglide.com/
- Digital Lumens https://www.digitallumens.com/
- A123 Systems http://www.a123systems.com/
- MIT Sloan https://mitsloan.mit.edu/
- Cornell https://www.cornell.edu/
Trond Arne Undheim (01:58):
Yeah, that’s, that’s a great question. Trond, again. Thanks. Thanks for having me on, I think the most, most interesting experience was, was probably A123 [Systems] and that’s what really got me started in the storage and hard tech game, if you will. Right. it was just such an interesting time to be involved in that, in that first wave of, of energy storage development and applications development and, really, you know, over the last 10 years, we’ve seen such an, such an explosion in the industry as compared to where it was back then, which arguably was sort of a perfect storm of events if you will. So before we get into the details, so that, would you say that,
Trond Arne Undheim (02:45):
You know, this experience, at A123,, why was it that it kind of just etched in, in your head that, you know, storage was something you’re going to come back back to? Or, or would you say it’s a little bit more circumstantial than that, that, you know, you been getting calls because you just were interested in the topic. How do you get etched?
Trond Arne Undheim (03:06):
So that’s a really good question. I think there’s, there’s two primary, two primary answers to that. The first is that, you know, batteries are just fantastically interesting things technically and we can have a good argument probably about whether they’re good business or not, but technically they’re like fantastically interesting. It it’s like the old kind of onion metaphor or analogy, right? Like every layer you learn about the application, you peel a layer back, you learn about the chemistry appeal, a layer back, you learn about the engineering of electrodes, you peal a layer back you learn about engineered materials, you feel layer back and it just like, it keeps going and going and going, right. I’ve been doing it for, you know, almost a decade. And I’m still quite the neophyte when it comes to to the electrochemical systems. So, so that’s the first right there.
Trond Arne Undheim (03:50):
They’re fantastically. Interesting. The second, I think is just, there’s so much gravity in the industry, right? It’s like you get sucked into this Jupiter-like orbit and it’s really, really hard to get out. It, it wants to pull you back. The, the experience based here in the US is relatively shallow, right? It’s certainly expanding now. But you know, there were a small handful of companies a decade ago that were really interested in advancing materially, battery technology. There’s obviously quite a bit more now, but when, when you have that base of experience, it’s really hard to get out of that battery, that orbit, if you will.
WHAT IS ENERGY STORAGE?
Trond Arne Undheim (04:28):
So energy storage, what, what is energy storage? What, what is the goal here? It’s a very broad term energy storage, but if you look at what’s considered the energy storage industry, I guess, you know, what, what is the goal here? I mean, storing energy for various purposes, but I mean, energy is such a wide construct. And I guess in this wide sense, right, it’s kind of viewed as almost like the Holy gorilla go. Yeah. If you could store energy, right. I mean, it’s, it’s just a little bit of a massive idea, the whole thing, but break it down for us. Like how has this topic emerged? Because I’m assuming a good while back, you know, apart from the Teslas of the world, I mean, was anyone talking about truly storing energy as a, you know, as a massive amounts of energy or were we talking about, have we been talking about different things as they have become possible?
- Tesla https://www.tesla.com/
Joe Adiletta (05:24):
Yeah. I mean, I think that’s what you just said is exactly right. We’re talking about different things as they become possible. Right. And some of that possibility is certainly driven by advancement in battery technology, right. As, as an enabler. But some of it is just imagining that things are realistic or possible. Right. So I’ll give you an example. You said, what is energy storage? And, and the reality is there are so many different applications, right? Ultimately what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to solve problems, right? It’s, it’s a, it’s a solution to a problem, right? If it’s, whether it’s climate change and, and energy storage on the grid, or you know, you could call EVs also a climate mitigation strategy, which of course they are. But you look at a Tesla and you take one for a drive and, and it’s clear that while it may not be solving a problem necessarily, it’s certainly offering a different experience. Right? So each of these, each of these individual applications has a need for energy storage. And that’s really, you know, over the last 10 years what’s, what’s driven the diversity of solutions that are, are either out there now, or, or, or that are coming in the future.
Trond Arne Undheim (06:40):
We’ll talk a little bit more about the futuristic applications later. So I leave the, kind of the Holy grail question for now, but I mean, it’s just, you know, it’s unquestionable, right. That if you truly could store energy in that sense, I mean it enables an enormous amount of decentralized type of activity from, I guess, space travel to, to, to anything else. But how, how would you say, what would you say are the main distinctions currently in the field? So you, you mentioned batteries, we’re gonna, you know, we’ll, we’ll unpack batteries. What are some of the other concepts and, and, you know, how, how would you divide up the field you know, in your, in your mind?
Joe Adiletta (07:19):
Yeah. So you can look at it certainly on an applications or on kind of a technology basis. Right. So on the, on the application side you’ve obviously got, you know, big buckets, right? Consumer electronics, you know, grid storage electric vehicles, and then, you know, emerging electric, aviation type applications. Right. So you can kind of break all those down. And then you’ve got all kinds of other storage technologies, certainly there’s electric, chemical energy storage, lithium, ion batteries being big, the primary. Right. but then you’ve got as, as these markets get bigger you’ve got all kinds of other energy storage technologies also whether it’s you know, mechanical or thermal
Trond Arne Undheim (08:03):
Joe Adiletta (08:04):
That sort of thing. So there’s certainly a diverse set of both applications and solutions. So, so the real key there, right. Is, is you sort of techno market fit, if you will, right. Finding the right thing to solve your your applications problem.
Trond Arne Undheim (08:22):
So let’s, let’s start perhaps first with some of the technologies and then move on to some of the more exciting use cases, but also also some of the, you know, we’re talking about some of the startups and stuff as well, but if you look at the basic technology, let’s just start with batteries for one second. So what, what is this history of batteries when, when we’re what we now know as “the battery”, which I think in most people’s mind, right. It’s a, I thought I had one here, this lithium-ion you know AA or, or AAA battery that you’re holding a, which has become so emblematic, when did that battery in that form get onto the stage? And what’s the alternative to that particular technology.
Trond Arne Undheim (09:06):
Yeah. So it’s been, it’s been three decades, I guess, now in the making, right. So if the first laptop batteries, right. That’s, that’s the genesis of lithium ion really via, via Sony in the, in the early nineties, right. 90, 91 sort of timeframe is it’s the initial commercialization of the 18650 as, as the industry would call it, right. 18 millimeters in diameter and and 65 millimeters in height. So a little bit bigger than a, than a AA battery. But that, that would start in the, in the early nineties. Right, in laptops. And it’s been somewhat of an incremental march forward. Right. Ever since then for the last three decades. So, so a batteries
Trond Arne Undheim (09:52):
It hasn’t exactly been Moore’s law, has it?
Joe Adiletta (09:55):
No, no, no, no, no, not even close. Right. So like let’s see, in, in the three decades you’ve got, I don’t know, maybe four or five X, something like that, the energy density. Right. So, so not even close to doubling every doubling every decade, maybe.
Trond Arne Undheim (10:10):
So why is that? Let’s just start with that question because I’ve, I’ve talked to a lot of people, industry insiders, innovators, you know, whatever it is, there are believers you know, in terms of that batteries are going to change everything. And then there are skeptics, they’re sort of saying, this is what we’ve got, you know. First off, if you just stay with the lithium ion platform, and I know there are startups and innovations on the lithium ion platform, what are the opportunities on that platform, a technology platform and what are the limitations? And, then sort of unpack why this is not like a Moore’s law and, you know, doubling you know, every year or two or three, but literally, in decades.
Joe Adiletta (11:01):
So we can unpack that to, let’s see, in two ways, I’ll just talk for a minute generally about what takes so long for battery development. And then, then we can talk about the current limitation of it’s
Trond Arne Undheim (11:14):
Joe Adiletta (11:25):
I mean, absolutely. Right. So the, so there’s fundamentally development, it just takes a long time, right? So these are like fantastically complex electrochemical systems, right. People pick up your disposable Duracell or Energizer alkaline battery, and they think, okay, well, I, you know, I just bought three dozen of these things for eight bucks. And like, it’s just that simple and it’s a commodity, right. But these are these are electro-chemical systems that are made of highly engineered materials that have, again refined over three decades of innovation. And while the innovation, you know, to the outside world may not seem great as you’re getting, you know, 7% or 10% kind of incremental improvement year over year. But it takes a lot of work to get there. Right, and a lot of work comes from just the overall amount of time that it takes to get these, these qualified.
Joe Adiletta (12:18):
Right. So if you put something into R&D and it looks promising and you’re working, let’s say with an automotive OEM, right. And they want to see let’s just for round numbers sake, say a thousand cycles, right. Well, you get 10 cycles a day, right. Thousand cycles. If you want to see the results of that test, I mean, you can do the math, right. So it’s a hundred days, let’s call it three months. Right. So if you’re getting towards the end of that kind of qualification, and instead of your battery failing in 200 cycles or 300, it’s now failing in 800 or 900, or maybe even 1100, but you want to continue to make improvements. Every spin that you put in takes you three months to get results off of. Right.
Trond Arne Undheim (12:59):
Here’s my question. So this spins though, what, what stops you from, from doing it faster? Because, so here’s my question. Let’s fast forward to, to COVID just for one second, let’s just say that there was consensus that in order to move forward with COVID, we need immensely effective battery technologies, to take like a random thing that, you know, COVID does that with a lot of things. I’m not sure batteries. I want to have them. Let’s just say, now we need a Manhattan project on batteries. If you just took the lithium iron platform without even be possible, is it, is it something where manpower or, you know, woman power? Is it just a number of people working on it or is there truly these cycles you talk about, they’re not just sort of R&D cycles or regulatory cycles and approvals and stuff there they’re pure physical limitations on the platform.
Joe Adiletta (13:56):
Yeah. So there, there are certainly are pure physical limitations on the platform, right. Ultimately you know, what the, what the EV guys and, and, you know, aviation guys, and even consumer electronics with they’re chasing higher and higher energy density, right? At the end of the day, you want to make these things smaller, lighter weight lower costs, right. It’s is part of, as part of energy density. And we can certainly touch on cost a little bit separately. Cause I think that, you know, bears its own conversation. But the active materials that you use on the positive and the negative side, right on the cathode and the anode, those dictate what the energy density or the energy content of your battery is and those materials have a limit. So the current the current electrochemical systems use something called NMC 811, right. Sort of 811 being the ratio of nickel to manganese, to cobalt in those systems and graphite on the anode, and those inherently have limits. So you have to switch materials to either higher nickel content cathodes, or away from graphite altogether on the anode. And that’s where, that’s where the bulk of money in terms of investment and development is going today. It’s away from graphite on the outside to get to higher energy density.
Trond Arne Undheim (15:12):
But, but now, so we’re talking about switching materials, but we’re still talking about the lithium-ion platform, which is a separate discussion, right? From the all three other materials that just say, forget, lithium-ion, let’s move to a completely different material as a starting point. Can you give us a tiny bit of an introduction to these non lithium ion innovations and technologies and platforms that are trying to just completely just say lithium-ion is one thing let’s just now move away from that entire concept? What are some of those approaches?
Joe Adiletta (15:46):
Yeah. So if you, if you move two, two ways of looking at it, right. So the first is electrochemical systems. So, so ion exchange type systems, right. Where like lithium ion, instead of moving lithium ions, you’re moving other types of ions. Right? And there are there are companies like an Ambri, as an example, molten salt battery, right. Still, still moves ions between, between layers of salt, but it’s certainly not anything remotely similar to a lithium ion battery. Right, there are so when you, when you move away from electrochemical systems then there are, you know, thermal type storage systems like Google, spin-outs called Malta’s up here, not too far from my house here in Cambridge that, that does thermal exchange type work. There’s a big company that does mechanical storage. They’ve got this big tower and you know, they move big, huge concrete blocks around for lack of a better way of saying it. And they recapture the potential energy, right. And move in, blocks up and down. There’s certainly other ways to store energy other than electrochemical systems, for sure.
Trond Arne Undheim (17:03):
So if we move into the use cases and I’m guessing the use cases will also determine the kind of tech and materials you are able to use. I mean, one for safety purposes, too you know, it’s just size, right? Because I’m in lithium-ion, you can say a lot about it, but if you need consumer electronics, they, they are a relatively, relatively right safe platform. And, the form factor is such that you can just, you can have them smaller. You can have them large, depending on how much power you actually need for your application. I mean, I’ve, I’ve understood that if you really want to power an electric car you know, based on consumer batteries, you could literally go to CVS or anywhere almost, and like pack it up. I mean, these things, they double that they, they have this amazing capacity to stack and, and, and, you know, an add together. But but what are some of the true, interesting usage applications for, for energy storage that you are, I don’t know, the most excited about?
Joe Adiletta (18:07):
Oh, wow. That’s a, that’s a loaded question. I’m with, they’re all exciting, right? I mean, that’s why, that’s why you’re an inner storage. I think that the, the beauty of industry right now, as opposed to a decade ago is the applications level expansion that’s going on. Right. So a decade ago, you know, when we’re talking EVs like the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, they weren’t even out yet. Right. And here you are sitting sitting around it and this year, if Tesla does what they want to do, they’re going to sell half a million cars or something like that. Right. So it’s just, it’s a completely different environment. And it’s a bit of a ‘rising tide floats all boats’ kind of scenario, right. And as you have this breadth of scale and interest in all of these emerging applications, what happens is that now you can have investment in application specific type storage, right?
- Chevy Volt https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Chevrolet_Volt
- Nissan Leaf https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Nissan_Leaf
Joe Adiletta (19:06):
Remember, like 10 years ago, Tesla was literally doing what you were talking about. They’re taking laptop batteries and packaging them up, rack, and stack them and make a pack out of it. Right. and the same thing for grid storage, you know, when we were at, we were at A123, we had, we had a nice, special battery that we developed, but we packed together 80,000 of those things into, into a grid storage battery. Right. But today you have all of these, all this diversity, which makes it really, really rich and exciting.
Trond Arne Undheim (19:35):
How did Tesla pull that off? I mean, I’m, I was told from a friend of mine who’s kind of into this space. And he said at the time, this must be, I don’t know if it’s a decade ago, but we were talking about Tesla. And he said, well, those guys are nuts because the concept card that they have on the table presumes a degree of progress to the point we were discussing earlier in battery technology that doesn’t follow the curve.
Joe Adiletta (20:02):
Yeah. That’s right. In some of these some of these applications, right. Sort of like a first order kind of problem. Right. I think they went in with a hypothesis that we have to be able to buy the cheapest energy storage possible because that’s going to be the driver of whether we can sell cars. Right. And at the time and you can argue whether that’s still true today, the cheapest way to buy storage that had decent enough life was to buy laptop batteries made by, you know, tens of millions a month kind of thing. Right. So if you wanted a, quote unquote commodity product, like that was, that was how you were going to get it
Changing form factors – battery storage and its applications
Trond Arne Undheim (20:40):
Interesting. So these changing form factors both of the end product that’s using batteries and, and the form factor of, of course the production battery. Right. it seems to matter quite quite a bit. So we’ve talked about some of the material science behind it, like ion flow batteries is one hydrogen. There’s all kinds of there, there’s just
Trond Arne Undheim (21:07):
All kinds of, of methods to do this, but, but they would have a consequence on the possible form factors, wouldn’t they, because, you know.
Trond Arne Undheim (21:17):
We may be looking perhaps for, or that’s at least what people are hoping for a sort of Cambrian explosion in energy storage, so that many, many, many more things would be possible.
Joe Adiletta (21:29):
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
Trond Arne Undheim (21:31):
So to what extent, you know can you actually start like Tesla, I guess, did with the form factor, they said, the car is the form factor we’re going to get there. We are making all these other innovations, but then there’s this one element. And, and we’re just going to somehow push through on that as well. But here’s the form factor and that’s a given. But I mean, there are other approaches as well, like with grid storage, which we’ll talk about in a second now space is not such an issue. And if you look at I don’t know if you would classify that the big Tesla house battery is that is like a grid storage didn’t mean, it certainly is.
Trond Arne Undheim (22:06):
You know, it’s a way to store massive amounts of energy. So it’s a little bit different than a, than a small kind of electronics type, type application EDS is one, right? And then you have kind of low grids, which I thought to be, you know, I’m in micro grids now are smaller. They’re even like in a house, but but definitely grades, you know, as a, it could be it could be in an, in of itself a form factor. And then you have electric aviation, which obviously weight is extremely everything, right? What are the foreign factors where you have seen the most progress lately?
Joe Adiletta (22:46):
That’s funny. It’s again, it’s a loaded question. It happens. It happens differently. Again, going back to what I, something I had said earlier, right? The fact that individual markets are big enough now that companies can dedicate resources to making batteries specific to those industries has generated a lot of really interesting stuff. Right. So I’ll give you one kind of, one of each, I guess, I’m so on the ed side for the folks that are using what you might consider large format pouch cells, right? The movement has been from, you know, 10 years ago, where you would get you know, a battery cell that might be in the shape of like an iPad, right. Basically square more or less. Now a lot of the development is very, very high aspect ratio cells so that you can fit them in one series string, all under the floorboard. So think about something that might be four inches, but three feet long as an, as an example. Right. So for a second,
Trond Arne Undheim (23:50):
Fit it under your bed?
Trond Arne Undheim (23:52):
Yeah. Fit under the floorboard of the car. Right. So goes under the floorboard of the car. So that’s, that’s one right on, on the grid. It’s almost exact opposite, right? So you say to yourself, 10 years ago, we did a one megawatt hour installation with a one, two, three, right? The first one ever that got put on the grid, right? One megawatt, one megawatt hour, four megawatts, right now the minimum of these large installations for like a hundred megawatt hours. Right. And they’re going to go to a gigawatt hour. So you’re talking about in the span of a decade or decade and a half and almost three order of magnitude expansion in the scale of these projects. Right? So you look at that, you say, okay, I’m going to go put a gigawatt hours worth of storage on a given site. Am I really going to make little AA batteries to do that? Like the obvious answer is no, there’s, there’s way too much costs. And in assembly associated with that. So what do you want to do? Do you want to make the largest possible, safest possible sell that you can then package into into systems and put them on the grid?
Trond Arne Undheim (24:59):
So micro grids, can you unpack this for me a little bit? I mean, grid, you know, in the olden days it used to be THE grid. So there was one grid down and it was covering neighborhoods and sometimes parts of cities. Right. And they were monopoly players that ran these grids. Now comes microgrids along, these micro grids to the extent they are independent of, of a larger grid provider, do they all need to depend on batteries to, to actually operate? Is that how, how they work?
Joe Adiletta (25:34):
So the term microgrid can be, can be a little bit deceiving. Right. I think the micro everybody thinks like really small.
Trond Arne Undheim (25:41):
Because it’s not micro in the traditional sense…
Joe Adiletta (25:44):
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, it could be anything from, let’s say a college campus, for instance. Right. So maybe the college campus is still connected to the main grid, but they have their own micro grid there so that if there’s ever you know, main grid failure or, or they’re just trying to get to net zero emissions or something like that. Right. All, all of the buildings are interconnected to storage and generation locally onsite.
Trond Arne Undheim (26:12):
So the point is that you can control your own energy consumption and you can direct and redirect energy. But also if you say micro grid, you have implied, you have a storage solution. Is that right?
Joe Adiletta (26:27):
The simple answer is like, yes and no, it depends. It’s like batteries, it depends. You’re gonna, you’re gonna have a hard time getting me down to anything in particular, but yeah.
Trond Arne Undheim (26:38):
Marketing here is horrible, it is difficult to pin anything down.
Yeah. I mean, so like, that’s probably true at like a college campus level, but if you think about Australia is a great example, right. Because Australia is like, it’s an Island, obviously. Right. but it’s the population is primarily a ring around the entire outside of the country. Right. highly dense areas, sporadic along the coast. So a good micro grid, there might be regional cities, right? Yeah. Not necessarily tied to the, to the surrounding area, but regional cities that have massive wind and solar installations coupled with storage that, you know, kind of get to write their own ticket. And in self supply,
Trond Arne Undheim (27:29):
Got it. I want to move on to startups in a second, but it also strikes me that energy storage is also a field that obviously is fairly regulated in, in many of its applications and, and thus larger players, you know, governmentally owned part owned in some countries fully owned, but also large players just because, you know, you’re playing with a big w with a big source here, you know, energy is a big thing. What, what are some of the larger players doing in energy storage and how is it affecting kind of the overall ecosystem? Cause it’s not just about startups spinning out of universities. This field is full of large energy players.
Joe Adiletta (28:17):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So I think that up and down sort of the value chain, you’ve got massive, massive organizations investing in energy storage. Right. And that comes from you know, parties like automotive OEMs, certainly. Right. So you know, BMW and Volkswagen just to deals with [//] as an example you know, Opal, PSA and SAFT are doing a JV and they eat you to supply cells. I mean, the list kind of, there it goes on and on, right. So the simplest way to think of it, it’s like anyone with a vested interest in storage and their end application from a big company perspective, even though all the oil and gas guys, right? Like Total owned SAFT as an example they’re, they’re all interested in, they all see storage as part of the energy future and are investing in it likewise,
Trond Arne Undheim (29:11):
But Joe, you said a key word that was going to be my word here. And this is not to blame anyone, but vested interests must be part of some of this explanation because clearly large companies have a vested interest in being part of the future, but isn’t there something to the insinuation that this field might have moved slightly faster if there weren’t all of these vested interests that were sitting on infrastructure assets that they clearly are, it’s in the rational interest…
Trond Arne Undheim (29:42):
…to milk some of those assets for as long as possible. Right. So there is about, and whether you’re talking oil companies, energy utility companies, or anybody that sits on a vested infrastructure that they and their forefathers, you know, have invested billions of dollars into. I mean, what is their interest in changing over the electricity system into some sort of mobile micro grid,dish skiddish thing that doesn’t follow the laws that they have previously established?
Joe Adiletta (30:16):
So it’s an interesting question. Right. And I say, it’s an interesting question because there’s there’s real. No, really no like conspiratorial answer to it, right. That the reality is like 10 years ago. Like A123, right. We had a perfect storm of, of funding, right. So raised a bunch of VC funds, IPO’ed, had, it’s just down 2008, right. During, during the downturn and the ARRA funds were out there, I’ve got half a billion dollars from the government.
Joe Adiletta (30:50):
Right. So like capital out, easy, easy capital availability. Right. But there’s no demand at the end of the day, right. Can build a plant. You can make good product, but if nobody’s putting it into cars, what are you going to do? Right.
Trond Arne Undheim (31:06):
Is that, is that the story you want to tell about a one, two, three, that there was no demand?
Joe Adiletta (31:10):
That’s one of the stories I could tell. But that’s certainly true. I mean, like you look at you look at the sales from let’s call it, when did the Volt come out, tied on maybe 2010, 2011, something like that. I mean, like if you follow EV sales, right. It’s not like all of a sudden there were three dozen models available and there’s millions and millions of cars being spinning. It’s been a slow and slow, steady slog. Right. I mean, it really has. And now we’re at the point where it’s about to take off and it’s great. But I don’t think that, you know, people have been trying to keep battery technology down if you will. In part of that, to be honest, Trond, is related to scale and it’s related to cost, right? Yeah. We’re at the point now where there’s, you know, hundreds of gigawatt hours of battery production annually, and in the coming years, they’ll be orders of magnitude more than that, probably just driven cost to a point where it’s really usable,
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The future of energy storage
Trond Arne Undheim (33:18):
At what point are we, you said right now and why are we there now? So when you say we are there now, is this like 2020, we are there. Or would you say kind of the last three years we are there? And when you say we’re there is this like the point before this Cambrian explosion. I mean, there’s really something will come out of this situation that you’re saying we’re in right now, which will radically, well, we’ll make it more of a platform more available and certainly a lot more efficient. That’s what you’re saying.
Joe Adiletta (33:52):
I think that the best, the best way to look at it really is EVs. Right? So cause they are going to be at least for the next, I don’t know, let’s call it five, five, seven years. They’re going to be the demand driver for lithium ion batteries. Right. and global automotive OEMs are sort of all in, on, on EVs, right? Tesla, like I says, can I sell half a million cars this year? It’s driven scale to the point where costs are good, not only for EVs, but for other applications as well. And
Trond Arne Undheim (34:28):
Is the mega application that’s going to drive everything else.
Joe Adiletta (34:32):
Grid storage could be just as large for sure. Now, arguably it’s, it’s behind. I mean, if you think automotive OEMs are slow to move? Like utilities, I mean really, really slow to move. Right. So it’s going to take awhile arguably to get enough storage on the grid where you’re doing, you know, multiple tens of gigawatt hours of demand annually, but it’s coming. There’s no doubt it’s coming.
Startups in electric storage
Trond Arne Undheim (34:57):
Let’s move into, I mean, we’ve kind of talked about A123, and some of the startups where you have been involved. If you look at the startups in the energy storage market and you know, we can pick some sub markets, but what are some of the interesting one from your perspective? I know we had initially talked, if you just pick a completely different area, then we have talked much about so far electric aviation, Lilium, you know, what, what are those guys up to?
- Lilium https://lilium.com/
Joe Adiletta (35:29):
Yeah. So I I’ll take, I’ll take a minute. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about my current employer. I think it’s, I think it’s one of coolest battery related startups. Right, so Ionic Materials. We do we do solid state battery development, right? So we’re a, we’re a polymers development company. We make an ionically conductive polymer that replaces the highly flammable liquid electrolytes in, in current batteries. So the dream there right. Is is, safety sort of above all else, right? These are, these are batteries that you can drive a nail through or shoot, and there’s, there’s no adverse safety event. So we’re working hard on that or we’re getting ready to scale that technology with a handful of great partners. And that’s really, like all solid state batteries. They’re the promise of the future because there’s a lot of interesting things you can do with those once, once it happens.
- Ionic Materials https://ionicmaterials.com/
Trond Arne Undheim (36:27):
And, and just briefly on that particular tech, you know, where is that tech that you guys are developing, where where’s that coming from and how, how, how did it come to market?
Joe Adiletta (36:38):
Mike Zimmerman. You know, the PhD polymer chemist professor at Tufts founded the company about about eight years ago. When he realized that that these, this class of polymer that he had developed were ionically, conductive, and ionically, conductive, almost an order of magnitude higher than conventional, other ionically, conductive polymers. So we’ve been working on for awhile and are just to the point where we’re ready to put it into application. So it’s exciting.
- Professor Michael Zimmerman, Tufts University https://engineering.tufts.edu/people/faculty/michael-zimmerman
Trond Arne Undheim (37:14):
That’s that sounds cool. And the efficiencies of this particular battery platform compared to the ones we have just talked about how would this compare?
Joe Adiletta (37:24):
Yeah. So it’s, it’s, you know, gonna be a hopefully, drop in replacement to liquid electrolytes, right? Like that’s, that’s the goal. The goal is that existing manufacturers can use this material on their fielded equipment. Right. So, so nothing, nothing to change over. But that folks putting in new lines might use novel and interesting manufacturing techniques to leverage the unique properties of these polymers to make even cheaper batteries.
Trond Arne Undheim (37:55):
Got it. Okay. So that’s one, that’s one platform. What about some of the other areas where there’s batteries and then yeah. And then
Trond Arne Undheim (38:05):
Lilium guys, super cool. Right. electric, aviation. It’s really interesting. There’s a lot of folks out there doing stuff, whether it’s Lilium or, or Uber Elevate’s program or Joby, or, you know, my friends at Ride Electric. Electric lots of folks out there Lilium I think a really interesting because, you know, if you look at their bird, look, their plane, I mean, it’s beautiful. Right. It’s just gorgeous. I mean, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a electric, vertical takeoff and landing craft. Right and uses a distributed electric propulsion. Right. So you don’t have big big propellers or anything like that. You’ve got the suite of a dozen or so of these little sort of micro electric motors along each of each of the wings, right. In these wings they pivot. And vertical takeoff and landing. You definitely go, go take a look. I mean, but I think what it does is you know, to this, the sort of Futurized point, right. Captures the imagination and it’s dream. Right. I guess it’s great. Right. You keep people excited about it and start to believe that this kind of application, this kind of thing’s actually possible.
Trond Arne Undheim (39:19):
Yeah. Have you come across a Light year one? It’s this Dutch solar car that’s out there now. I saw the prototype in Palo Alto. They brought it over.
- Lightyear one – first solar powered car https://lightyear.one/
Joe Adiletta (39:29):
I mean, I’ve definitely seen it. You know, the solar stuff, solar cars are interesting. They have to be, to be practical. They have to be so highly efficient. Cause you just don’t get that much energy off of the limited square footage that you have available for panels. Right. So it’ll be interesting to see where they go. That’s that’s along with flying cars, right. Solar powered cars and flying cars. I mean, that’s a, you could get
Trond Arne Undheim (39:55):
Stuff of science fiction, right. I mean, when you look at that thing, you’re thinking, wow. Yeah. That’s a, that’s what dreams in your everybody’s spending time at home now, so you have time to dream, right. I mean, this is what you dream about. Right. So, yeah.
Joe Adiletta (40:09):
So you grew up watching, watching, watching the Jetsons cartoons and things like that. And everybody wants flying cars, right? Flying cars are always the future waiting for them for awhile. Right. Hopefully these guys will usher in some way.
Trond Arne Undheim (40:22):
There are a bunch of fly flying car startups though, truly flying car startups, for lack of better words. What do you think of those? Ah,
Trond Arne Undheim (40:32):
Back, it’s hard to believe that true flying cars are going to happen anytime soon. Like you can just get it, be driving down the Massachusetts turnpike and hit a button. And all of a sudden you’re going to take off to your destination, but you know, who knows? We’ll see.
Trond Arne Undheim (40:45):
But I mean, the complexity is that now you’re bringing in two regulatory regimes. Right. I mean, because if you say, you know, I’m a drone, that’s, that’s like one thing that, you know, it’s been like a relatively free space. The moment you sort of say, well, I’m kind of an airplane. Okay. Whoa, okay. FAA that’s necessarily really serious. If you’re a car, obviously now you’re on the highway you got to follow all kinds of automotive specifications. But if you look at the new mobility space, which again, like the moment you called it, new mobility then everyone was interested in mobility, do you think you’re already see your marketing point, right? Yes. Right. Do you think that the short hops to like regional stations all around…is our mobility pattern going to change drastically the next few years, if any, and all of your kind of theories about, this being the Cambrian moment, let’s just say, there’s going to be all these form factors and, you know, let’s call it government regulators are going to be relatively lenient and let some of these things fly around.
Trond Arne Undheim (41:53):
Is there a potential that, that mobility will truly change in even just in this decade? Or are we, again up against a lot of these, you know, whether there be practical or technological limitations and, you know, ETS is a relatively rare kind of situation, w,here can we should think of the platform car it’s been around. Right. So it’s not like Elon Musk had to convince people what a car was. He just had to say, I’ve built something that is you know, his problem is, you know, you have to convince people that it’s as safe as a car, but at least it looks enough like a car that no one’s questioning that it kind of is a car, but some of these other patterns are starting to question how and why you move around and you know, don’t.
Joe Adiletta (42:38):
Yeah, so that’s a good, that’s a good question. I mean, I guess the question is you know, planes are around the electric aviation guys, like, do you have to convince them that they are planes? If they look like planes, they fly it, it looks like a plane that flies like a plane. It’s going to be a plane.
- Electric aviation companies to watch https://www.greenbiz.com/article/6-electric-aviation-companies-watch
- VTOL https://www.wikiwand.com/en/VTOL#
Trond Arne Undheim (42:55):
It kind of also looks like helicopters. Right. If you have vertical takeoff.
Joe Adiletta (42:58):
Yep. Yep. That’s true. So to answer your question, like, do we think there’s going to be a big change in mobility because of that in particular? I’m not sure. I think what’s interesting to think about is what happens. So we’ve got, COVID right? COVID has dramatically changed the the outlook of sort of working from home. And what people might think of is is, is an appropriate work methodology, right? So ,maybe you have fewer people going in to work, you couple that with electric vehicles and, you know, fully automated driving and potentially electric aviation, you start to think to yourself, okay. Maybe it’s not just that we’re going to have a whole bunch of ICE’s sitting in gridlock on the highway, but maybe it’s something, you know, a lot better than that, you know, demand reduction, automated movement and new methods of mobility. I mean, it sounds like an interesting future, you know?
Trond Arne Undheim (44:02):
Well, it’s an interesting, interesting future for lots of reasons. Let’s talk more about COVID–what has it done? Because you know, COVID is one thing. If you were just the desk worker and you have to under this kind of situation, sitting across a unit, I’m spending a lot of time around the screen, but essentially you’re doing the same thing just in slightly electrified way, but how is it to develop a battery technology and storage when you can’t go into the office? I mean, some, these things are infrastructures and there’s testing and hardware involved. How do you even do that?
Joe Adiletta (44:36):
Yeah. So I guess the answer is you do the best you can, right? You’re right. Anyone doing all my friends in, in startups around here, right? Anyone who’s involved heavily in the physical sciences, right. It ends up being challenging. I think the real answer is, you know, you manage your office as best you can, right? The people who need to be in the labs still need to be in the labs, doing the work. And you have to be as protective of that as you can. Right. So limit their limit their exposure to anyone else make sure that you set up proper protocols in the labs and still try to maintain and press your advantage as best you can.
Trends in emerging markets such as India
Trond Arne Undheim (45:15):
I guess there are actually a lot of startups trying to reinvent how you work in the lab as well. I mean, there’s remote monitoring possible in a lab as well. Like there’s a lot of human monitoring that was kind of redundant and you’re not really monitoring anything crucial. Well, they’re crucial, but they, they could be sensors monitoring those things as well, but, but you’re not going to automate a hundred percent, right. If you’re innovating on the process, you don’t even really know what you’re monitoring. So it would seem that it’s kind of dangerous to leave your experiments, especially in batteries. Right. I mean, this stuff could blow up. Let’s talk, you know, as we’re sort of thinking truly about, about the future and one of the developments, I know emerging markets is always a big question, certainly with batteries and, and, and storage more so because, you know, you’re now dealing with with countries that have regions that never really got the grid in the first place you’re dealing with very poor road infrastructures. And to point out some other things, I mean, you’re doing you’re dealing with countries that maybe don’t even have domestic manufacturing capability for some of these advanced products and a host of other things. Right. yeah, that’s right. I mean, is that happening there?
Trond Arne Undheim (46:32):
I think, I think India is an absolutely fascinating market, right. For, for a number of a number of different reasons. The first being, I just, I think that the future in, in some of these countries is, is all distributed, right? Like if you were the, the best analogy cell phones, right. Are or telephones if you were an emerging an emerging economy that wanted you know, telecommunications throughout the country, the last thing you do is go run landlines, right? Today you drop a bunch of cell towers and like nobody would even think twice about landlines. I think the same thing is going to happen with energy generation and storage. It’s gonna all be distributed renewables plus storage cause you just, you’re not going to run, you know, 80,000, volt, high tension infrastructure lines throughout a country as large and as diverse as India, as an example. Right. So, so what do you do? How do you, how do you solve that problem, innovative storage and and renewable energy technologies.
Trond Arne Undheim (47:36):
But is it certain though that it’ll give these countries the kind of independence that there’s some simultaneously hoping to do? Because I mean, they’re hoping for, they are truly hoping for the Holy grail. They want independence from any other country like India from China. You know, they don’t want to rely on some other provider coming in with a monopoly on, on energy, which historically has been an issue in many, many countries. But on the other hand, isn’t it true that most of these technologies after all are developed by companies large or small coming from previous large countries that already were important and ready for, for this new wave? I mean, is it possible that the distributed innovation also in these countries can catch up in the same way? Or would you say all of the platforms we’ve been talking about so far still demand that you have a advanced infrastructure and talent around you so that you can actually capture the benefits of all, all that’s happening and build products fast enough and with attractive enough designs and foreign factors that they will take off in this country. So in other words, who’s going to be the leaders in, let’s just say, India is the next big energy market. Is it going to be powered by, by domestic Indian startups? Or do you think the whole world is going to move in there?
Joe Adiletta (48:55):
That’s a really good question. I think the, the simple answer is that they, they certainly have the opportunity to do it themselves. Right, and, and the reason I say that is a bit of a Delta. It’s sort of a techno techno economic fit argument, right? So today they use an absolute ton of lead acid batteries, right? It’s lead acid manufacturing infrastructure there. There’s recycling infrastructure there. There are electrified things. They’re both, whether it’s two wheelers and three wheelers, or whether it’s you know, in a home banks have lead acid batteries because of grid intermittency problems there. Right? The problem is you can’t go through forget about the geopolitical problems with China, right. That there are so, so India doesn’t necessarily want to import Chinese technology, right? The cost of lithium ion batteries, it’s a replacement for lead acid just doesn’t work, right?
Joe Adiletta (49:51):
So this is an example where you could bring in what one might think is a lesser technology than lithium ion, but it’s much more cost effective to serve the market. And it’s still, you know, two X, three X lead acid, right? So, so there really is an opportunity to leverage some of that manufacturing, infrastructure and technical knowhow there to, to make batteries that are better than what they have now that can still be used on the grid, but not necessarily have to import a hundred dollars, a kilowatt hour type technologies. Interesting.
How do you stay up to date on energy storage trends?
Trond Arne Undheim (50:29):
Finally, as, yeah, I will. I know you think so as we’re thinking about this area, I mean, it strikes me and, I was aware of this before. It’s an extremely complicated area. It’s easy to just throw out questions like I do, and sort of imagine, like we all do, but truly being an innovator in battery storage, energy storage, whether it’s grid or consumer applications, micro electronics or, and in any industry really applying this is somewhat difficult. How do you personally stay up to date and how would you advise my listeners to try to get into this field you know, so much track it and have a sense maybe they want to invest in it. Maybe they want to just be aware of what changes are coming on on the horizon, where should they go? Are there easy to find influencers, you know, newsletters? I don’t know, Google.
Joe Adiletta (51:33):
Yeah, sure. I mean, I would definitely suggest that people, you know, there are plenty of online publications out there, right? Whether it’s like Electric or Green C Congress or Green Tech Media, or there there’s a lot of publicly available information about this. If you want to take it kind of the next step past, publicly available information plenty of really interesting conferences, right? Depending upon your, your view, right? Whether you want to go
- Green Car Congress https://www.greencarcongress.com/
- Greentech Media https://www.greentechmedia.com/
Trond Arne Undheim (52:02):
What’s the top one?
In EVs, it’s AABC, advanced automotive batteries conference. There’s a, there’s a good one in Florida. That’s got a mix of a little bit of everything. It’s . I’ve been going to that for like what seems like forever you know, for, for grid, there’s like Solar Power international there’s, you know, the energy storage association show, the ESA there’s ESNA, the energy storage North America show like there, there are, there really are a lot there’s electric aviation shows now. I mean, it’s great. Like you could probably find an energy storage show a week if you really wanted to now, not in the current times, right. A lot of this stuff online and that sort of thing, but there’s a lot of information available. I’m happy to at any of the listeners want to chat a little bit more, I’m happy to happy to field calls as well.
- Advanced automotive batteries conference https://www.advancedautobat.com/us
- International Battery Seminar https://www.internationalbatteryseminar.com/
- Solar Power International https://www.solarpowerinternational.com/
- Energy Storage North America https://www.esnaexpo.com/
Trond Arne Undheim (52:51):
Well, I feel slightly informed just by this conversation. I hope others feel same way, Joe. It’s been a true pleasure to explore these things and kind jumping a little back and forth between topics, but I, I try to make it a little more conversational– this could very easily be a highly technical conversation. I wanted us to dig a little bit deep. I hope it’s been a minute been interesting for people listening. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise
Joe Adiletta (53:19):
That’s great, Trond. Thanks. Pleasure to be on.