Accelerator grant offers a jolt to Michigan company's battery innovation

The Shell GameChanger Accelerator program recently awarded $250,000 to a Michigan company to expand development of its technology.

A Michigan energy storage startup plans to use a $250,000 grant from the Shell GameChanger Accelerator program to expand development of its grid-scale organic battery technology. More on Jolt Energy Storage Technologies after today’s Midwest cleantech headlines…

👷  JOBS REPORT: Clean energy jobs continued to decline in May, according to a new analysis out today by BW Research. The sector shed more than 27,000 clean energy jobs last month, bringing the total number lost since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to more than 620,000. In the Midwest, Michigan was hit particularly hard, losing an estimated 1,012 jobs for a 1.0% decline.

🔋 STORAGE PILOT: The Omaha Public Power District has received a $600,000 grant from Nebraska lottery funds for a pilot project that will study how various use cases and recurring cycling degrades the charging potential of grid-connected batteries. The battery will be approximately 1 megawatt and housed at a substation.

💻 WEBINARS: The Environmental and Energy Study Institute hosts three webcasts this week focused on climate, COVID-19, and rural communities. Tuesday’s topic is implementing energy efficiency programs in rural America. Wednesday’s is on the role of the bioeconomy, and Thursday’s looks at how rural communities can address both disasters.

Now, back to Jolt Energy Storage Technologies…

The Holland, Michigan-based company uses organic compounds to develop safer, sustainable, more efficient, and less costly energy storage, referred to as “flow” batteries. Tom Guarr, Jolt co-founder and chief technology officer, said the business is using the GCxN support to scale up from a lab prototype energy storage system to a larger system that will be incorporated onto the microgrid at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

THE TECHNOLOGY: Unlike lithium-ion or nickel-cadmium batteries where all the electrodes and active materials are contained within one can or pouch, a flow battery is an electrochemical cell where the chemical components are separated by a porous membrane. The amount of energy produced by a flow battery is proportionate to the size of the “tank,” making it a scalable energy option.

HOW IT HAPPENED: Jolt licensed Guarr’s work at his Michigan State University lab in 2015. Initially, he and co-founder Jack Johnson aspired to make additives for lithium-ion batteries to keep them from catching fire. “We had what we felt was a good chemical solution. At some point we realized our chemistry was halfway down the road to a fully organic battery, and we pivoted slightly to the development of that all organic battery,” he said. 

THE IMPACT: Many flow batteries contain the relatively rare metal vanadium, but Jolt’s batteries are considerably cheaper because they use an organic liquid for the electrolyte that serves as the battery’s main component. The non-acidic, non-corrosive, non-toxic electrolyte also makes these batteries considerably safer than other kinds. Jolt’s batteries can produce about four times as much energy as other flow batteries at about a four times lower cost.

CHALLENGES: The co-founders have experience both in private sector and academic R&D. Academics don’t always have good knowledge of what’s involved in moving from the laboratory to real-world commercial applications, Guarr said. “One of the pieces of advice I was given early on in industry is it will take you twice as long, it will cost twice as much, and it will be half as lucrative as you thought it would be,” he said. Guarr also believes the Midwest doesn't get enough attention for the innovation that goes on here, especially with clean energy advances.

WHAT’S NEXT: A medium-term goal is to further expand with a pilot project at a utility. Guarr credits participation in a Chain Reaction Innovations cohort at Argonne National Laboratory for providing resources to test and validate the technology to ensure it will work long enough in real-world conditions. The goal is to achieve a 20-year life span.

Help us cover how Midwest startups and growing companies are helping to fight climate change and other daunting problems. Send news tips, press releases, and feedback to katie@centered.tech or connect on Twitter @centereddottech.


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