The transition to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly power grid has led to a boom in renewable energies such as solar and wind. But something as simple as cloud cover can cause grid instability, and wind power is inherently unpredictable. This intermittent nature of renewable energies has enlivened the competitive landscape for energy storage companies looking to increase the flexibility of the power system while enabling the integration of renewable energies.
“Impact is what drives PolyJoule more than anything,” says CEO Eli Paster. “We see effects from the perspective of the integration of renewable energies, from the perspective of the reduction and also from the perspective of the transition from a centralized to a decentralized model of energy supply.”
PolyJoule is a Billerica, Massachusetts-based startup looking to reinvent energy storage from a chemical perspective. Co-founders Ian Hunter from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and Tim Swager from the Department of Chemistry are longtime MIT professors who are recognized as luminaries in their respective fields. The core team now consists of a small but highly qualified group of chemists, manufacturing specialists, supply chain optimizers and entrepreneurs, many of whom have already called MIT home.
“The ideas we work on in the lab will turn into products in three to four years that will still be innovative and ahead of their time when they hit the market,” says Paster. “But the concepts arise from the foresight to think five to ten years in advance. We have that in our back pocket thanks to great minds like Ian and Tim. “
PolyJoule takes a systems-level approach to high throughput analytical electrochemistry that has enabled the company to determine a chemical cell design based on 10,000 experiments. The result is a battery that is inexpensive, safe, and long-lasting. It is able to respond to base and peak loads in microseconds, allowing the same battery to participate in multiple power markets and use cases.
There are many interesting technologies in the field of energy storage, but practicable solutions are few and far between. But Paster says PolyJoule managed to bridge the gap between the lab and the real world by addressing industry concerns from the start. “We took a slightly different opinion of all the other energy storage companies who came before us and said, ‘If we build it, they will come.' Instead, we went straight to the customer and asked, ‘If you could have a better battery storage platform, what would it look like?' “
With commercial inputs flowing into the thought processes behind their technological and commercial use, PolyJoule says they have developed a battery that is less expensive to manufacture, cheaper to run, safer, and easier to implement.
Lithium-ion batteries have traditionally been the energy storage solution of choice. But lithium has its drawbacks, including cost, safety issues, and harmful effects on the environment. But PolyJoule is not interested in lithium – or metals of any kind. “We start with the periodic table of the organic elements,” says Paster, “and deduce from it what works with economies of scale, what can easily converge and chemically convert.”
The inherently safer chemistry enables PolyJoule to save system integration costs, among other things. PolyJoule batteries do not contain flammable solvents, which means there are no additional costs associated with fire fighting. Safer chemistry also means easy storage, and PolyJoule batteries are currently undergoing global safety certification (UL approval) for indoor and aircraft approval. Finally, thanks to the high power built into the chemistry, the PolyJoule cells can be charged and discharged to the limit without the need for heating or cooling systems.
“From raw materials to product delivery, we check every step of the value chain with a view to reducing costs,” says Paster. Everything starts with the design of the chemistry around earthy elements, which enables the small startup to compete with larger providers even on a smaller scale. Keep in mind that PolyJoule's differentiating material cost is less than $ 1 per kilogram, while lithium carbonate sells for $ 20 per kilogram.
On the manufacturing side, Paster explains that PolyJoule cuts costs by making its cells in old paper mills and warehouses and using off-the-shelf equipment previously used for tissue or newspaper printing. “We use equipment that has been around for decades because we don't want to develop cutting-edge technology that requires state-of-the-art manufacturing,” he says. “We want to create cutting-edge technology that can be used in industrialized nations and in other nations that can benefit most from energy storage.”
PolyJoule's first customer is an industrial decentralized energy consumer with a base energy consumption that increases by a factor of 10 if the heavy machinery is switched on twice a day. In the early morning and late afternoon, it consumes around 50 kilowatts for 20 minutes to an hour, compared to a base value of 5 kilowatts. It is an application model that can be transferred to a wide variety of industries. Think wastewater treatment, food processing, and server farms – all with fluctuations in power consumption over a 24-hour period.
By the end of the year, PolyJoule will have delivered its first 10-kilowatt-hour system that exits stealth mode and adds commercial viability to the demonstrated technological superiority. “What we are seeing now is that enormous amounts of energy storage are being added to renewable energy and grid-tied applications,” says Paster. “We expected that in 12-18 months and now we're in the process of catching up with some of the bigger players.”