The path to bringing more efficient, effective, and economical batteries to market over the last 25 years is overwhelmingly littered with failure. Now, however, in a recent paper published in MRS Energy & Sustainability, Vinayak Dravid, the Abraham Harris chaired professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, his graduate student Eve Hanson, and battery start-up SiNode Systems (earlier post) co-founder and CEO Samir Mayekar propose an updated model of US battery commercialization.
The model is informed by pharma, an industry that faces many similar commercialization challenges yet, unlike energy, boasts a deep history of successful market debuts.
As the head of Chicago-based SiNode Systems, Mayekar confronts the challenges of battery commercialization daily. The startup is commercializing a novel silicon anode technology based on research from the lab of Harold Kung, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, but faces significant technical and market hurdles.
Mayekar approached Dravid and Hanson to conduct a formal study of applying the pharma model to energy, believing that incorporating elements of the pharma model into battery commercialization efforts could propel the number of success stories.
Studying pharma successes through interviews with industry leaders and investors as well as published reports, Dravid and Hanson noted distinct differences between pharma and energy—specifically, pharma being a high-margin business compared to the commoditized battery sector—but also striking similarities that could inform energy’s commercialization efforts.
Together with Mayekar, they identified a series of tailored proposals for entrepreneurs, investors, manufacturers, and policy makers to fuel battery commercialization, including:
Initially pursuing niche, higher-margin applications to bring in early revenue and help prove out the technology;
Developing strategic partnerships and joint development agreements with large battery companies to enhance credibility, certify data, and consider how technologies might be manufactured and integrated into the supply chain;
Targeting capital raises to specific exit scenarios to enhance investor returns and better align with the battery market’s realities; and
Focusing on customer-led performance metrics, rather than academic figures of merit, as early as possible to more fully understand the market opportunity.
With more economical and energy-dense batteries holding the potential to solve contemporary energy challenges—such as balancing the intermittency problems of renewables and making possible electric transportation fleets—the researchers believe applying the pharma-inspired development pipeline to batteries can breed rich, transformative technologies.
Eve D. Hanson, Samir Mayeka and Vinayak P. Dravid (2017) “Applying insights from the pharma innovation model to battery commercialization—pros, cons, and pitfalls” MRS Energy & Sustainability doi: 10.1557/mre.2017.12