Leveraging MSU technology, Holland firm hopes to drive cost out of lithium-ion batteries
September 5, 2017
A West Michigan startup hopes to drive down costs and increase consumer safety for electric vehicles with new technology it plans to bring to market next year.
Jolt Energy Storage Technologies LLC of Holland is currently conducting long-term life cycle testing on a compound that will allow lithium-ion batteries to avoid overcharging, which can reduce the life of the battery or cause it to catch fire and explode in a worst-case scenario.
According to Jack Johnson, who co-founded Jolt, the technology will improve the safety, reliability and durability of lithium-ion batteries, and ultimately reduce costs. The technology also allows for a more accurate measurement of the energy stored in a battery, which can often be challenging to measure, he said.
“One of the most important parts of controlling lithium-ion batteries is overcharge,” Johnson told MiBiz. “It’s very hard to know how much energy is in a battery. There are some complex things that go into measuring it and that’s what drives costs is complexity in the measurement system.
“Using our technology makes the ability to measure the amount of energy much simpler. Plus it gives it added protection to overcharge. Those two things will allow you to reduce cost over the long term.”
Jolt’s technology was developed by Dr. Thomas Guarr, who works as the director of research and development at Michigan State University’s Bioeconomy Institute in Holland.
The specific technology relies on a proprietary compound that’s added to the electrolyte solution in the battery that can be tuned to detect a certain voltage. Once that voltage is reached, it will react and “shuttle” some of the electrons from one pole of the battery to the other, effectively bleeding off that excess charge. Once the battery comes out of its overcharged state, the compound deactivates.
MSU holds the patent on the technology, but it has licensed its use to Guarr, Johnson said.
Johnson believes the technology could play a key role in the complex energy management systems that are required for today’s high-tech batteries.
“It’s not like an old-school battery where you have this dumb thing,” he said. “Everyone thinks of a battery as something they stick in their flashlight or just put in their car to get it started. (But) modern advanced energy requires process control like an engine does. You have to control upper voltage, lower voltage, you have to control temperature and all these things have to be met or it will ruin the product — it will damage it. So a significant amount of money is spent in software and electronics trying to control that process.”
Jolt is currently in the middle of a $500,000 capital raise, according to documents from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Jolt plans to use that money to conclude final life cycle testing and other analysis before marketing the product to large lithium-ion battery manufacturers or companies that make electrolytes for the batteries.
Johnson expects Jolt will introduce its first “pre-production” product a year from now.
“These are all very large sophisticated companies that would be the customers and they require a significant amount of data to be able to take it to their level,” he said. “That means that products in their formats, chemistry and simulated life cycle, and some of these life cycles have to mimic 10 years. There’s a fixed amount of time that it takes to cycle things quickly even to get a simulated life cycle.”
The company recently hired Scott Lindemann to serve as the company’s CEO. Lindemann previously served as co-CEO at JR Automation Technologies LLC, a Holland-based manufacturer of automation equipment.
“We needed someone who had experience for senior management as well as helping us with raising the capital we needed to complete this stage of development,” Johnson said of his decision to bring on Lindemann.
The three executives comprise the whole of Jolt’s staff for the time being, Johnson said.
In addition to helping launch Jolt, Johnson also co-founded Volta Power Systems LLC, a small manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, alternators and power inverters for high-end recreational vehicles, marine and heavy equipment applications, as MiBiz previously reported.
FITTING INTO ELECTRIFICATION
Many automotive industry watchers predict a rapid move toward full vehicle electrification in the coming years.
Roughly 33 percent of all automobiles produced globally in 2025 will include some sort of electrification, including vehicles with mild hybrid, full hybrid, full electric or fuel cell power plants, according to data from IHS Markit. In North America, the share of electrification is expected to reach 20 percent by 2025.
Still, many in the industry point to roadblocks to full electrification, including cost constraints and the battery range of today’s fully electric vehicles.
For his part, Johnson sees electrification as being an important value-added technology. But even he harbors no illusions that the technology will replace internal combustion engines any time soon.
“I’m not a zealot,” Johnson said of his views of electrification. “If you look at how the adoption is, the zealots said we’d all be driving electric cars four years ago. The reality is that they have to be justified. They have to be economically viable as well as make sure they’re safe both ways, for the environment and for use.”
Made in Michigan: Holland-based Jolt Energy Storage Technologies is currently raising $500,000 to conclude final life cycle testing for a technology that could help drive down the overall cost of lithium-ion batteries. The technology uses a compound that prevents batteries from overcharging, a state that can reduce the life of the battery or cause the battery to combust. Jolt plans to bring its technology to lithium-ion battery makers and producers of battery electrolytes next year.