MassChallenge Finalists Market Better Batteries
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 29, 2013 20:09
Today, it seems that cell phones are limitless. They very well could be, if their collective battery life was more reliable. Thanks to a bit of breakthrough science no larger than a human hair, the era of dying batteries and frustration may soon be over.
Meghan Zipin and Emily Fannon, both BC ’13, are on the verge of making the dream of a super-powered phone a reality. The two are finalists of MassChallenge, the largest startup accelerator in the world.
Before these successes, Zipin and Fannon were MBA students at Boston College. Their journey began when a associate professor of chemistry Dunwei Wang visited a business class they were taking. His presentation induced a lot of interest and they approached Wang afterward. Soon they were teamed up in the pursuit of perfecting and marketing the lithium ion battery.
In an age where cell phones surf the web, keep our schedules, play music, and capture photos, batteries are doing a lot, and dying much more quickly.
Zipin and Fannon started EnerLeap, Inc., which already holds multiple patents on a new and improved battery design. Simply put, all batteries seek to maintain the potential between oppositely charged electrodes. The normal mode of construction elicits carbon black and a “glue” that connects the powder electrode materials in the device.
Wang laments that this blueprint is far from sophisticated, “less like a form of art,” he said. That’s because the current powder binders are difficult to control and essentially inactive. As Wang said, the most exciting part is the practical application.
For many, the average two to three hours required to fully charge a typical battery is glacial. The dilemma? More energy necessitates a slower charge time.
The EnerLeap batteries can charge in a fraction of the time—a matter of minutes—while common batteries would be damaged if supercharged within such a short period of time. The solution is Wang’s nanonet, a conductive alternative to the carbon additive that increases surface area, thus supporting the powder and conducting and discharging charge. This design not only makes for a fast-charged, longer-lasting battery, but a lighter battery as well. For this reason, the military is interested in the EnerLeap battery. Lighter loads and faster charges can mitigate risk for soldiers.
With the innovation of an idea that has been four years in the making, Wang said, “In my lab we have done what we can.” Many of the developmental stages are now, as Wang said, “out of the Ivory Tower and into the real world.”
When asked which route the battery will end up on, Wang had less to say. “In terms of application, I’ll leave it up to the marketing people.” Wang stressed the importance of collaboration for this project. When talking of investors who had sat in his office and asked him about his business plan, he jokingly said, “What is a business plan?”
“I just do what I’m good at and forget the rest,” he said.
Wang, Zipin, and Fannon keep in close contact. In fact, Wang will travel to MassChallenge next week as the competition enters the pre-final judging stage from Oct. 1 to 4. Zipin and Fannon will pitch to a panel of judges—26 winners will advance. From there, the 26 winning teams pitch to high-profile judges from Oct. 17 to 21. The winners will be announced at the MassChallenge Awards Ceremony on Oct. 30. Over $1 million in cash prizes in awards go to the winning startups.