Batteries play a pivotal role in the world’s mission to reach net-zero carbon emissions, from electric vehicles to grid-scale electricity storage to home use. This includes helping nuclear power work with renewables to develop sustainable, carbon-free energy systems.
But current batteries are too expensive and inefficient because of material procurement, battery life, power limitations and recharging challenges. To solve these problems, manufacturers and companies must develop a high-performing, durable and economical battery.
Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Electrolyte Model (AEM) is exactly what manufacturers need to produce better batteries, according to INL Senior Commercialization Manager Ryan Bills. AEM is a computer simulation program that provides information on properties of complex electrolyte formulations and how they can influence battery performance.
At the heart of every battery is the electrolyte – salts and solvents responsible for transporting ions from one electrode to another, creating a flow of electricity in the process. Different electrolyte formulations deliver different results, and the results can vary depending on the type and size of battery. Electrolyte formulations can even be optimized based on how and where a battery is used.
For companies developing lithium-ion batteries or devices that use them, AEM is a “must-have tool,” to impact battery development, Bills said.
Companies, including major automotive manufacturers, battery research institutions and battery manufacturers; have already licensed and are using AEM, the 2014 R&D 100 Award winner. But these licenses have only scratched the surface.
“AEM adds value by accelerating the battery development cycle,” Bills said. “The challenge, however, is getting the technology out in front of people and making it easier for companies and research institutions to access it.”
To increase AEM distribution, INL entered into an exclusive license agreement with Ridgetop Group. The agreement gives Ridgetop the right to distribute AEM to a growing customer base via technology sublicense and standard software licensing agreements.
The licensing model allows Ridgetop to take ownership of AEM marketing and sales efforts, which will attract new customers, while INL can continue to lead and enhance the technology based on the latest research.
“Since Ridgetop already has a presence in the market for battery modeling software, this is a win-win opportunity for both parties,” Bills said.
Ridgetop Group, based in Tucson, Arizona, is an engineering and technology firm focused on, among other things, reliability engineering solutions for aerospace, defense, transportation, energy and industrial applications. In 2016, the company licensed INL’s CellSage and adapted a select subset of technology that had solid “dual-use” applications in the private sector. As a part of that transition, Ridgetop expanded its product offering for power supply prognostics, engineering services and battery modeling tools by partnering with INL and licensing technologies like AEM and CellSage.
The benefit to INL is that Ridgetop can accelerate the AEM licensing process, Bills said.
“Unfortunately, we are not quite as nimble as some of our AEM users would like us to be when it comes to software distribution,” he said. “Software licensing and distribution is one of Ridgetop’s core competencies, so we are very excited to be working with them.”
Ridgetop, as a commercial company, can expedite licensing. It also has a dedicated global sales team with connections to lithium-ion battery markets. This agreement could increase AEM’s impact on the global battery industry by shortening development cycles. Bills believes this agreement may shorten the time for new battery technologies to reach the market, which will accelerate decarbonization across many sectors, including transportation and power transmission and distribution.
Ridgetop Group’s Director of Operations Wyatt Pena said the company’s customers have already expressed interest and have identified other industries that could benefit from the AEM software.
“We look forward to exploring some of the other opportunities that are available with AEM because it’s not just limited to battery-based modeling and design,” Pena said. “There are other field applications. We look forward to exploring those together with INL.”