(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is final article in our series spotlighting the start-ups that comprise Cohort 2 of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” initiative. The companies are a little beyond the halfway point in the two-year program. Next up is our spotlight on the seven start-ups that comprise Cohort 3 of the program.)
When we first interviewed Don DeRosa, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Eonix Energy, for this late 2018 article on teknovation.biz, he posed a question as a way to shape the discussion about the company that had been selected to participate in Cohort 2 of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) “Innovation Crossroads” program
His question was: “What good is an energy storage device that doesn’t store a lot of energy?” DeRosa’s answer was that he 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.
In our final article in this series focused on the five start-ups in Cohort 2 of the program, we asked each of the participating Founders or Co-Founders to provide us an update on their roughly mid-point progress. Here are DeRosa’s responses to our questions.
- When you were selected for the inaugural cohort of ORNL’s “Innovation Crossroads” program, how would you describe the state of your technology and where you were in standing-up a start-up? After four years of research funded by New York State, Eonix had developed a drop-in, high conductivity chemistry that significantly improved the performance of ultra-capacitors for transportation applications. Despite this initial success, we still needed to expand the stability of our chemistry to have a market-ready product that would lower the cost and size of these devices. Addressing chemistry stability has been a significant scientific barrier in the energy storage industry, and we required substantially more technical resources overcome this challenge which lead us to Oak Ridge National Lab and the “Innovation Crossroads” program.
- Now, a little more than halfway through the two-year experience, how would you answer the question? After five years of research funded by New York State and now the Department of Energy, Eonix has developed its first commercially available electrolyte product and has a suite of electrolyte products nearing commercialization. Armed with the resources and expertise of Oak Ridge National Lab this past year, Eonix developed a high throughput, semi-autonomous laboratory system that reduced experiment duration from months to days. This dramatic reduction in the time needed to conduct experiments allowed our research team to collect years’ worth of insights in a few short months. These critical insights have spurred the creation of our first market-ready product available to license, a drop-in additive that instantly expands the stability of ultracapacitors. Furthermore, Eonix is on track to finish development of a high-performance electrolyte that will increase ultracapacitor energy density by up to 70 percent. Currently, we are working with three prospective customers to transition these technologies from the lab to their devices.
- What have been the biggest changes and how has the “Innovation Crossroads” program helped with the progress that you’ve made? The most profound change has been to our research and product development rate. Prior to joining the “Innovation Crossroads,” it took us years to establish a laboratory and begin to conduct electrolyte research. The “Innovation Crossroads” program has provided us with the technical, financial, and professional development resources we needed to build a competitive business in the energy storage industry.
- What more do you expect/hope to accomplish before your two-year Fellowship ends in May 2020? At the conclusion of my fellowship, I expect us to have two electrolyte products that are either ready to scale or license. Additionally, I expect us to continue working with the experts at ORNL through other federally-funded research programs to begin developing scalable electrolyte products that expand the capabilities of lithium ion batteries.
- Will you be ready to take the technology to market or will you continue to have to further advance it? We expect to begin negotiating a license for an additive technology at the conclusion of this program and begin scaling a high-performance electrolyte.
- How have you found the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region in terms of its support for tech-focused entrepreneurs? Launch Tennessee has helped cultivate strong entrepreneurial support throughout this state, including the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region. The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center is a testament to the growing bevy of resources available to tech-focused entrepreneurs.