(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth article in a five-part series spotlighting the work of the second cohort of start-ups comprising Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” initiative. They arrived in the area in May to begin their two-year effort to further advance their early stage energy-focuses companies.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“What good is an energy storage device that doesn’t store a lot of energy?”
Don DeRosa, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Eonix Energy, has a plan to solve that challenge with a new high voltage electrolyte that will significantly lower the cost and size of ultra-capacitor modules. The resulting lower cost and smaller ultra-capacitor modules can be used in tandem with lithium ion batteries to dramatically improve the efficiency, range, and longevity of hybrid and electric vehicles.
The State of New York native, part of the second cohort of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads,” learned about the program through word of mouth, something that says a lot about the initiative’s growing national reputation.
“Shane (McMahon) told me about it, and he learned about the program from Mitch (Ishmael),” DeRosa said. Ishmael was in the inaugural cohort selected in 2017, while McMahon is part of the second group that started in May 2018.
“When I first found out about the program, I could not believe it,” DeRosa said, noting that it could significantly help him reach his goal of having a minimum viable product to scale by the time the two-year effort ends.
Like McMahon, DeRosa is a State University of New York at Albany graduate with a doctorate in nanoscience. Growing-up in Floral Park, NY, he relied on public transportation and did not even get a driver’s license until he was 21 years old.
“That was at the peak of the last oil crisis when gas was $4 a gallon,” DeRosa noted, a fact that “redoubled my belief in green energy.”
He and three others founded Eonix in 2014; the others have since departed.
“Our focus is not to make the device, but to make the electrolyte that goes into the ultra-capacitor,” DeRosa says. “It’s a very vertically-integrated sector.”
Electrolytes are one of three components that are used in the device that is an alternative to normal lead acid batteries. The other components are the electrode and the separator.
“There has been very little innovation in the electrolytes in the past decade,” DeRosa adds. “When you look at energy storage, the three keys are how many times you can charge and discharge, how much energy it stores, and how quickly it can recharge.”
The traditional lithium battery can recharge 2,000 to 5,000 times versus one million times for the ultra-capacitor. “It’s a ‘fit and forget’ device,” DeRosa says. “It doesn’t store a lot of energy, but it releases it quickly.”
How might you notice the difference? Perhaps you have a newer vehicle where the engine stops when you are at a red light. If so, have you ever been frustrated with the semi-stall that occurs when the light changes to green, and you’re ready to go?
“You want it to start in under 400 milliseconds,” DeRosa says. “You want an ultra-capacitor doing this. We are making an electrolyte that overall reduces the cost of these devices.”
The goal is a 15 percent total cost reduction for the maker of the ultra-capacitor and a 20 percent reduction in the size of the device. Those are important savings for the manufacturer.
DeRosa says the largest target market is hybrid buses that stop frequently. “It’s a bigger initial capital investment, but it pays for itself over time.”
How’s the “Innovation Crossroads” program going just a few months into it?
“The Crossroads team support, paired with the technical resources at the lab, greatly increases our likelihood of success,” DeRosa says. “ORNL is a well-kept secret.”