RICHLAND, Wash. – A new battery developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., could soon be getting some national attention. Researchers say innovations to the lithium-ion battery will greatly decrease charging times on cell phones, laptops and electric vehicles. These inventions could increase energy efficiency, but often times consumers cannot buy this technology for years (PDF).
America’s Next Top Energy Innovator will help bring new technologies – like the lithium-ion battery – to the public sooner by cutting through some of the red tape. Director of Technology Commercialization Cheryl Cejka and Energy Commercialization Manager Peter Christensen talk about the lab’s part in the challenge and technology marketing in general.
Vorbeck Materials, based out of Jessup, Md., hopes to bring Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s innovation to the market.
Vorbeck adds a material called graphene to the batteries’ electrodes. This allows lithium-ion batteries to charge much faster than current technology. Cell phones and laptops could charge in minutes, says Vorbeck Materials president John Lettow. But, he says, the real use could be electric vehicles.
“The high charge rate is obviously great if you are plugging your car in and wanting to recharge the battery, but it’s also incredibly useful for regenerative breaking, when you’re trying to store the energy that’s coming off of the breaks to improve efficiency,” Lettow says.
Labs must rely on licensees to take their early-stage research and development products to the market. America’s Next Top Energy Innovator is designed to cut through red tape and bring recognition to start-up companies, which commercialize technology. So how does an invention from a national laboratory normally make it into your hands?
1. Labs make technologies known for companies to option, either through a website, conferences, published patents or articles. Labs can also companies they think might be interested in certain innovations.
2. Option the technology. That means companies sign a contract with labs saying no one else can use the technology for a certain period of time.
3. Decide if it’s worth a full-blown license. At the end of the optioning time companies can then license the technology. (Companies can directly license technology without the optioning period.)
4. Scale down a prototype. To properly test products, a licensee must make the innovation look and act more like it would in every day life instead of a laboratory setting. (Vorbeck will make the lab’s lithium-ion batteries smaller.)
5. Test, test and test again. Researchers place the prototypes in real-world scenarios to see how they work. (Vorbeck will replace a piece of the lithium-ion battery at a time to see how well it works in a hybrid car.
6. Put it on the market. It can take companies several years to get to this point.
This process can generally take five to 10 years, though it can be slower or faster. In a famous instance, the compact fluorescent light bulb took 30 years to reach the market.
Share your experiences as part of EarthFix's Public Insight Network.
Join our Public Insight Network!