New battery materials developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and licensed to Vorbeck Materials Corp. could enable electric vehicles and other consumer electronics to recharge in minutes rather than hours. Here a PNNL researcher prepares and tests lithium ion batteries and lithium/air batteries for vehicle and other mobile applications. Image: PNNL
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has signed option
agreements with three companies that will lead to products designed to increase
the storage capacity of batteries used to power portable devices and electric
vehicles, reduce the cost of fuel cells used to generate electricity from
hydrogen, and detect pests hidden behind walls in buildings.
The agreements are part of the White House’s Startup America initiative, which was launched in
January (2011) and is designed to help young companies grow, move innovative
technologies into the marketplace, and create good-paying jobs in the United States.
The PNNL-developed technologies were made available the on the laboratory’s Available
Technologies Website, as well as on the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s)
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Website, the Energy Innovation Portal.
“PNNL is focused on driving emerging technologies
toward outcomes that solve issues of national importance,” says Cheryl
Cejka, PNNL’s director of technology commercialization. “We have a long
history of working closely with entrepreneurs and early stage companies to
develop and adapt our innovations into new or improved products and services.
These three Startup America
options are just a few of our latest examples.”
Vorbeck Materials, based in Jessup, Md.,
optioned a PNNL-developed method for building tiny titanium oxide and carbon
structures that greatly improve the performance of lithium ion batteries. The
rechargeable batteries are widely used in portable devices such as laptops, and
are used in most electric vehicles. Vorbeck, a manufacturer and developer of
applications using its proprietary graphene material, optioned the technology for
use in a graphene-based electrode for lithium air and lithium sulfur batteries.
The new material stores twice as much electricity at high charge/discharge
rates as current lithium ion batteries, and creates increased battery capacity
and a longer cycle life.
A PNNL technology that supports the minimization of
high-cost platinum use in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells was
optioned by startup Evaxa Energy Systems LLC. Headquartered in Corona
Del Mar, Calif., Evaxa optioned the fuel cell technology
with the goal of incorporating it into a low-cost PEM fuel cell. PEM fuel cells
are primarily used for backup power. The optioned technology reduces the cost
of manufacturing the fuel cells by up to one-third without decreasing overall
performance, and improves stability and life of the fuel cell.
A third option was granted based on PNNL’s award-winning
millimeter wave technology. Originally developed to protect air travelers, the
technology utilizes millimeter waves that penetrate clothing and reflect off
the body, sending signals back to a transceiver. Newly formed VisiRay, located
in Corvallis, Ore., signed an option agreement for a new
application of the technology. The company’s business plan is based on
manufacturing devices to detect pests in buildings. Each year, pests cause many
millions of dollars in damage to homes and commercial buildings. If
successfully developed, VisiRay’s intended products will allow inspectors to
see through drywall particle boards, and view clear images of pests on the
other side of the wall. The company was started by University of Oregon
Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship MBA students participating in PNNL’s
University Technology Entrepreneurship Program.
As part of the Startup America Partnership, DOE initiated
the “Next Top Energy Innovator” program, which reduces the cost of
options to license available patents to U.S. start-up companies to $1,000-a
fraction of the usual cost. The agreement provides the company a one-year to
option to obtain an exclusive license to the technology for a specified field