Last month, Wilton’s Cadenza Innovation announced that its high-performing, low-cost lithium-ion batteries would be available through Turtle Energy Storage Services, a division of Turtle & Hughes, one of the country’s top electrical and industrial distributors.
It marked a significant deal for Cadenza, which was founded in 2012 by Christina Lampe-Onnerud, the Swedish-born inorganic chemist and battery inventor and one of the world’s leading authorities on energy storage.
In this edition of Suite Talk, Business Journal Senior Enterprise Editor Phil Hall speaks with Lampe-Onnerud on her company’s current activities and its role in the fast-expanding cleantech sector.
What role do batteries play in the growth of a green economy?
Batteries are seemingly simple on the outside, but oh-so-complicated on the inside. I and my nerdy friends — the Ph.D. chemists, the engineers, the electronics dudes — have been working on this for some time.
What we have done is taken all of the experience we had from cellphones and laptops and cars into a Lego block of energy that has all the lessons learned on the inside — where you can use global supply chain and global innovation and, at the same time, anticipate what is coming in this pipeline to leverage a new architecture. And this particular architecture has both the structural elements and the enablement of the wonders that we really want, which is the electric chemistry that is both simple to use and safe at the same time.
This technology has now been filed in the global patent portfolio all across the world: the U.S., Europe, China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada. We were recognized first by the U.S. government and the Obama administration for pioneering the cost aspects of this platform. And we did it through a very unorthodox approach, which was basically simplification and data-driven analytics into what became a new envelope. We then handed off the technology to the Department of Defense, which did some testing and tried to blow up this invention. It didn’t blow up, so that was kind of fun.
I have been quite active only on the World Economic Forum with multiple governments, as well as in Connecticut and New York where we’re trying now to deploy technology. With the announcement about Turtle, we are thrilled because now we get muscle behind this technology and we can get deployment and have an opportunity to roll out this technology on multiple levels of energy storage.
What industries would benefit from the Cadenza-Turtle partnership?
This is energy transition — now there is a real willpower and a real drive and policy initiative to not renew the fossil fuel infrastructure that exists but to go to the next technology parallel. That touches the utility environment and it touches large real estate and homeowners. On all of those levels, you have an opportunity to participate in this new energy paradigm and take advantage of this super-safe and reliable energy storage.
As we’re marching forward, we are thinking through how to create resilience, which we need when we get hit by these climate-change storms.
I just got back from an in-person conference in Michigan where business developers, bankers and investors were in one place discussing electric cars and electricity infrastructure. For Cadenza with Turtle, it means we participate on that side of the electricity infrastructure.
What percentage of your business is focused on electric vehicles?
We are just rolling out manufacturing right now. We started with a challenge from the Department of Energy, which asked us to help think about cost-effective and safe cars. We have always known that the cars are an equal part of this whole paradigm of what we now call “new energy.”
I gave a TED Talk in 2011 or so about this dream of the electricity net infrastructure, the car and the human interface and human decision-making. We’re inching very closely and very rapidly into this reality now, where you can be a generator and a consumer, yet you can be very much in charge of your carbon footprint. You can be in charge of your costs and you have more choices, so there is more transparency on where the electricity comes from and how much it costs.
For Cadenza, the most exciting opportunity right now is that our country is deciding to do something differently and if we stay with a policy to get these goals, the markets will figure out very quickly what technology goes to what sector. The transportation sector is so wide and it’s becoming part of the integrated grid.
Earlier this year, CNBC reported the U.S. is facing a lithium-ion battery shortage at the same time that electric vehicle production has increased. Are you concerned that a shortage of lithium will create long delays in the deployment of electric vehicles?
Lithium will never really be an issue, in my opinion. I am proud to serve on the board of Livent, which is a North American lithium producer, and lithium is readily available not only from out of the ground, but in multiple sources.
For years, cleantech solutions always seemed like a great promise but always just a little bit out of reach before becoming a dominant solution. Do you feel that the country can finally embrace cleantech and move away from the old-school technologies that have been contributing to climate change and putting pollutants in the environment?
I think it’s interesting that you say that because that’s also my observation. But now, you have multiple technologies that are ready for launch and you have multiple solutions that have an opportunity to really have impact. Everybody knows what an electric car is.
Your company is headquartered in Wilton, and you do your research and development in Danbury. Is this a business-friendly state for you?
I would say the state has been really amazing. While Silicon Valley is an amazing ecosystem, the ecosystem between Boston and New York is populated with hardware knowledge, hard sciences, chemistry, physics, engineering, electronics — all that good stuff. We live in the hardware world and we collaborate with our colleagues in software.
There has been real interest from Connecticut Innovations, which is the venture arm of the state. Because it is a small state, you actually can meet people, which is quite nice. And there’s a very active invitation on the table all the time when policy is shaped.
I wish it went a little faster on policy — I’m an impatient entrepreneur and I appreciate that there are a lot of things that needs to be considered. But in our field of energy and climate change, I think we are running against the clock and I would like to see things move a lot faster.