SolidEn­ergy CEO sees break­through in tech­nol­ogy of next-gen­er­a­tion bat­ter­ies

The Korea Times - - FOREIGN ENTERPRISE - By Kim Ji-soo ja­nee@ktimes.com

I’ve found the range of ap­pli­ca­tions for bat­ter­ies to be very broad. They’re the core of trans­port and clean en­ergy, and you can use them for non-clean en­ergy...

As a sci­en­tist-turned-CEO, Qichao Hu of SolidEn­ergy Sys­tems is pas­sion­ate about the ap­pli­ca­tion of one’s pur­suits, whether it be in the sciences or the arts.

“Peo­ple should do some­thing that should ac­tu­ally im­prove things,” Hu said. “If the stuff that you do can im­pact the au­di­ence, that’s ap­pli­ca­tion-ori­ented.”

It’s the range of ap­pli­ca­tions of next-gen­er­a­tion bat­ter­ies that led Hu, who has a doc­tor­ate in ap­plied physics, to co-in­vent the semi-solid lithium-metal bat­ter­ies that are now used in high-al­ti­tude drones and fly­ing taxis in such cities as Dubai and Dal­las.

“I’ve found the range of ap­pli­ca­tions for bat­ter­ies to be very broad. They’re the core of trans­port and clean en­ergy, and you can use them for non-clean en­ergy, cell­phones and watch phones, VR (vir­tual re­al­ity) gog­gles and drones,” Hu said in an in­ter­view with The Korea Times held at the news­pa­per’s of­fice in Seoul.

Founded in 2013, SolidEn­ergy Sys­tems has been break­ing ground in the in­dus­try with its light recharge­able bat­ter­ies. That same year, Hu and his pro­fes­sor at MIT came up with the con­cept for the semi-solid lithium-metal bat­tery, which has dou­ble the en­ergy den­sity of the stan­dard lithium-ion bat­tery.

“Ba­si­cally from now, 2017, to 2018, 2019, and 2020, we will see the big­gest break­throughs in bat­tery tech­nol­ogy,” he said.

Hu trav­els to Asia and Europe fre­quently; he was re­cently in Seoul, where two of the largest bat­tery man­u­fac­tur­ers, in­clud­ing Sam­sung and LG, are based.

The com­pany’s bat­ter­ies, the world’s light­est recharge­able bat­ter­ies, are cur­rently ap­plied in space satel­lites and high-al­ti­tude and com­mer­cial drones.

“High-al­ti­tude drones serve the goal of pro­vid­ing Wi-Fi and ed­u­ca­tion to peo­ple around the world, where more than 60 per­cent still don’t have ac­cess (to Wi-Fi),” Hu said. “Also the drones are used to do ae­rial film­ing, such as for Na­tional Ge­o­graphic content.” He added that there are drones used for emer­gency re­sponses and fast de­liv­ery, like those used by Ama­zon. All these ap­pli­ca­tions re­quire new types of bat­ter­ies, such as those of SolidEn­ergy Sys­tems.

“With cell­phones and watch phones, that (com­mer­cial­iza­tion) will hap­pen in 2018. With elec­tric cars, it will hap­pen in 2020,” Hu said.

Es­sen­tially, Hu ex­plained, the SolidEn­ergy recharge­able bat­ter­ies have two in­no­va­tive ma­te­rial plat­forms — dual-layer elec­trolyte and ul­tra-thin lithium-metal an­ode — and con­se­quently they have dou­ble the en­ergy den­sity.

The SolidEn­ergy tech­nol­ogy achieves a gravi­met­ric en­ergy den­sity of 450 Wh/kg and vol­u­met­ric en­ergy den­sity of 1,200 Wh/l, com­pared to the stan­dard lithium ion bat­ter­ies cur­rently used in cell­phones, which is 250 Wh/kg and 600 Wh/l.

SolidEn­ergy Sys­tems’ bat­ter­ies can be in­te­grated into ex­ist­ing lithium-ion man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

When Hu started SolidEn­ergy Sys­tems, the U.S. bat­tery in­dus­try was go­ing through a tough phase, which iron­i­cally en­abled the com­pany to work with lead­ing equip­ment from the Mas­sachusetts com­pany A123 Sys­tems, which had just gone bank­rupt.

“A123 was al­most like an in­cu­ba­tor for us,” Hu said. SolidEn­ergy Sys­tems, which is ven­ture backed with its main in­vestors be­ing au­to­mo­tive com­pa­nies, has now built its head­quar­ters in Woburn, Mas­sachusetts, leav­ing the process of scal­able pro­duc­tion to ex­ist­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers.

“So it’s a new tech­nol­ogy — ex­ist­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing pipe, new prod­uct; that is the fastest way to get a new tech­nol­ogy out to the mar­ket.”

Hav­ing started when the in­dus­try was go­ing through a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, SolidEn­ergy Sys­tems sub­scribes to the motto “It could be worse” when it faces chal­lenges.

“The most dif­fi­cult part for a tech- nol­ogy com­pany is mak­ing the prod­uct work and then com­mer­cial­iz­ing it. You think about why peo­ple have failed at it in the past, why should you suc­ceed,” Hu said.

Where is SolidEn­ergy headed in the next five years?

“We want to be­come more main­stream, (so) the now-es­o­teric-sound­ing high-al­ti­tude drones and fly­ing cars can be­come main­stream in the next five years. The peo­ple need it,” Hu said. “As a com­pany, we will es­tab­lish a pres­ence in Cal­i­for­nia, China, Korea and Europe in the next three years.”

He finds prob­lem-solv­ing to be a com­mon­al­ity be­tween lead­ing a com­pany and be­ing a sci­en­tist.

“Sci­en­tists and en­trepreneurs, we have a prob­lem, and we solve it. I have never seen a per­son solve a prob­lem with physics skills or busi­ness skills only,” he said. He him­self learned the busi­ness side through a spe­cial En­ergy Ven­tures Pro­gram, at MIT dur­ing his grad­u­ate years.

In these ex­cit­ing times for sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing, should ev­ery­one study these fields?

“I don’t think ev­ery­one has to do sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing. There should be an ap­pli­ca­tion fo­cus,” he said.

Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Qichao Hu, founder and CEO of SolidEn­ergy Sys­tems, talks about next-gen­er­a­tion bat­ter­ies in an in­ter­view with The Korea Times.

Cour­tesy of SolidEn­ergy Sys­tems

The en­trance to SolidEn­ery Sys­tems, in Woburn, Mas­sachus­setts

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