Whether it be batteries, fuel cells, biofuels or solar power, progress in renewable energy performance increasingly relies on new and improved materials. Almost every newly founded renewable generation or product company is working with new materials or new frontiers in materials processing.
Historically, the mechanics of discovering new chemistries, new processes, and new materials have relied on genius, experience, and luck. Wildcat Discovery is looking to change that -- or at least to rely a bit less on luck.
VC-funded Wildcat Discovery Technologies is announcing an advance in rechargeable battery materials which they claim can improve battery performance by 25 percent to 65 percent. The material is a direct result of Wildcat's combinatorial chemistry tools, which gives the company the capability to rapidly synthesize inorganic materials.
I spoke with Wildcat's CEO, Mark Gresser, and CTO, Steven Kaye. The firm characterizes its team and technology as a "discovery engine" with the ability to synthesize and test over 1,300 unique materials every week. This type of materials discovery, akin to Intermolecular's process discovery, could result in much faster progress in renewables and clean energy. It's reminiscent of the acceleration in genetic sequencing due to superior new tools.
Wildcat’s EM1, a new 5-volt electrolyte formulation, and CM1, a new high voltage cathode material, look to deliver a 25 percent improvement in gravimetric energy density and a 61 percent improvement in volumetric energy density in the electrode compared with today's state-of-the-art battery materials. For the CM1 cathode material, Wildcat’s R&D team synthesized and evaluated more than 3,000 materials in eight months; this research may have taken years using conventional methods.
In the words of Wildcat's CEO, "This is the first 5-volt rechargeable battery that the market will have seen up until now. It's a a giant step in research in this area." Applications include cars, tablets, smart phones, and power tools. Wildcat is claiming an energy density of 675 Wh/kg while operating in full cells at 5 volts.
Widcat is venture-funded by CMEA Ventures, 5AM Ventures and the Virgin Green Fund. Although the firm's focus is on batteries, their discovery platform can be applied to other materials and, in fact, they have a grant from the ARPA-E program to do research in carbon capture.
What type of business model does a materials discovery company rely on? In Wildcat's case, half of their work is for internal projects and half is done on 50-50 collaborative basis. The firm doesn't look to be a supplier of the materials themselves, but rather looks for licensees and partners for further development and commercialization of their materials.
The EM1 electrolyte’s high-voltage capability is of special interest for the automotive sector, where cell development has been restricted by the inability of existing electrolyte formulas to cycle at high voltages. Current electric vehicle systems based on low-voltage cells require complex pack designs and battery management systems. EM1 enables the development of high-voltage systems, which can reduce cell quantities 30 percent to 40 percent compared to competing materials. Fewer cells and simpler pack designs translate into substantially lower costs for electric vehicle manufacturers.