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AluminAiry founders
May 13, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

The future of energy could be up in the air

AluminAiry is developing a battery using aluminum and air electrodes. They hope to disrupt the sustainable battery market.

The world is heavily adopting lithium-ion batteries for the electrification of transportation, manufacturing, equipment, and more. However, two researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) believe there are new methods to produce energy by manufacturing alternative batteries.

Brian Washington, the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AluminAiry, said there are ways to capture energy produced from air electrode structures for use in aluminum-air batteries.

“These battery systems could lead to 10 times faster recharging times through unconventional methods and double the achievable range for electric vehicle (EV) batteries,” he said.

Currently, Li-ion is the “top dog” for all available battery chemistries; however, Washington cites Lithium ore refining and extraction as a big issue, along with environmental impacts associated with those processes. Also, the currently established supply chain for Li-ion batteries leads to delays in electric vehicle deliveries, which were seen drastically after 2020. Additionally, the current average range for an electric vehicle is 250 to 300 miles. Washington said his technology could increase that range to upwards of 500 miles.

So, one might wonder how Washington got energized by air electrodes. He tells a picturesque story.

“I was outside one day, and the wind was blowing. I honestly wondered if the power of the wind could create energy for consumer use – aside from wind turbines,” Washington shared.

That big question directed his doctoral studies. He is currently a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering under the advisory of Dr. Thomas Zawodzinski. Washington credits Zawodzinski with encouraging him to bring his air electrode research associated with aluminum-air batteries to market – and that’s how AluminAiry got started.

Zawodzinski also connected Washington with a third-year Chemical Engineering doctoral student, Colt Griffith. His studies are heavily based on the management of aluminum surface processes for enhanced performance in these battery systems. So, Griffith joined Washington as the startup’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO).

“We are really like yin and yang,” Washington said. “We complement each other’s skill sets and have made a great team,” Griffith agreed.

The two of them are currently developing a prototype for the battery. They both admitted that the process would take substantial capital and time.

Their 10-year plan is to establish a manufacturing facility in Tennessee, commercialize their batteries, and take the electrical vehicle market by storm.

“I see this battery implementation in a wide range of applications, but most specifically in the EV industry,” Washington said. “We need to make sure that the electric transportation market is sustainable and marketable for years to come.”

Washington and Griffith were a part of the Regional Mid-South Innovation Corps program. They hustled to complete 20 customer interviews in a three-week period, which will help further steer the direction of their company and battery development.

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