A lithium electrolyte is the heart of the market’s lightest, most powerful batteries. But lithium batteries occasionally rupture and burn or explode.
The idea for the original silatronix invention, a safer electrolyte, was hatched in one of those chance meetings beloved among advocates of scientific innovation. Hamers says 罗伯特·西
In a battery, an electrolyte transports electrons or ions between the two electrodes, which connect to the two contacts on the exterior.
In 2004, West and Hamers invented their first improved electrolyte. By incorporating silicon, the electrolyte became more stable and less likely to break down and burn or explode.
The invention was not an immediate business success, however. In 2006, Hamers and West co-founded silatronix and discovered that safety alone would not persuade the massive lithium-ion battery industry to switch.
For 25 years, the industry has used a few electrolyte compounds, Hamers says, “and replacing them with our formulation would require a major leap of faith — unless we could prove a major performance enhancement.”
|Deb Gilbert, director of research and development at silatronix, oversees synthesis and evaluation of new battery electrolytes. Photo: David Tenenbaum|
Meanwhile, silatronix continues to innovate at its east side Madison offices. “We know the essential structure of the electrolyte, but we continue trying to understand what parts are important and what parts are not,” says Deb Gilbert, director of research and development.
As the company plans to expand its lab space, “we are also trying to protect ourselves,” Hamers says. “If there are other good molecules out there, we want to know about them to protect our patent.”
Several patents on the silicon-bearing electrolytes, based on discoveries in Hamers’ lab, are held by the 威斯康星校友研究基金会. License fees paid to WARF support further research at UW–Madison. silatronix itself holds a patent on the third-generation electrolyte that is now entering production in Japan.
The twists, turns and near bankruptcies during Silatronix’s decade-long history must be judged in the context of an industry that is both highly competitive and highly conservative, says silatronix CEO Mark Zager.
“This is another case study in what is really good about being an entrepreneur in Madison,” Zager says. “We’ve had support from two very strong investors: WARF and Venture Investors LLC. Otherwise, we would not have been able to support this research over such a long period.”