While lithium-ion batteries are the most used battery type in electric vehicles (EVs) today, chemist Claudiu Bucur is on a mission to change that.
Bucur, who has experience as a top battery researcher at multinational corporations including Toyota, wants to revolutionize the battery industry by developing the next generation of solid-state batteries to power EVs and other high-energy applications.
To jumpstart his vision, Bucur, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry from Florida State University, founded Piersica, Inc., in 2020. The company is already making breakthroughs in high-energy-density energy storage technologies.
“After working for major companies across the globe, I wanted to start my own U.S.–based company to accelerate progress in scalable strategies for solid-state batteries,” said Bucur, who is Piersica’s CEO.
Solid-state batteries have the potential to outperform lithium-ion technology in safety, energy density, and length of life — all critical to current and future energy needs.
Working with Piersica’s team, Bucur, a Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI) innovator, developed a safe, solid-state battery that delivers more than twice the energy of today’s lithium-ion batteries and still provides fast charging and a long life.
Solid-state batteries use a nonflammable solid electrolyte, which is safer than commercial lithium-ion batteries that use a flammable liquid electrolyte.
“My goal is to accelerate a path to market for a safe, solid-state lithium battery with energy densities of more than 600 watt-hour per kilogram — twice the energy level of today’s lithium-ion battery cells,” Bucur said.
On average, electric cars consume roughly 25 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles.
Bucur joined CRI Cohort 5 at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in September 2021. CRI is a two-year entrepreneurship program that embeds innovators at Argonne to help them grow their early-stage technologies. Overall, CRI provides innovators with over $400,000 in direct non-dilutable support during the program.
HOW IT WORKS
Despite their promise, solid-state batteries face barriers to widespread commercial adoption, including cost and manufacturing obstacles.
The main challenge has been the search for a solid electrolyte with sufficient conductive capacity for large batteries. Bucur addresses that challenge through his ambitious redesign of all three battery components: anode, separator, and cathode.
A battery has two electrodes — an anode and a cathode — made of electrochemically active materials. The electrolyte, which allows lithium ions to flow between the anode and cathode, needs to be highly conductive to generate enough power for high-energy applications like EVs.
Using a bipolar cell design, Piersica designed a fiber-enabled high-rate lithium-metal anode; a highly conductive proprietary solid-state polymer separator; and a manganese-based lithium-rich, high-voltage cathode.
Made of a novel, proprietary polymer, the solid-state separator — the permeable membrane between the anode and cathode — has demonstrated higher conductivity and stability than separators used in lithium-ion technology. It has also proven compatible with high-voltage cathodes.
“This separator will dramatically improve performance of solid-state batteries, enabling higher energy density, charging rate, and safety over commercial lithium-ion cells,” Bucur said. “Our material is stable in the open atmosphere and can be easily and cheaply scaled for manufacturing.”
Piersica has developed a unique architecture for the anode: a lithium-conductive fiber sponge that is flexible. This is an advantage over traditional lithium-conductive materials that are very stiff, making the manufacturing of large cell formats nearly impossible.
Postdoctoral researcher Anwar Hossain is also working on Piersica’s project with Zhengcheng Zhang, a senior chemist and group leader at Argonne. Zhang, an internationally reputed expert in battery materials, leads Argonne’s research in material innovation for next-generation lithium-ion batteries.
The solid-state-battery market is a very active research area, but Bucur says his technology and business plan give Piersica an edge.
Instead of aiming directly at the EV market, Bucur plans to align his marketing strategy with the technology readiness of the Piersica battery. Large markets like EVs require the highest level of technology maturity, he said.
Piersica will generate revenue by licensing the battery materials and components while the team is developing the battery. “This enables Piersica to generate revenue faster than our competitors, who must wait until they develop their full battery to start achieving commercialization,” Bucur said.
In step with the technology’s maturation, Bucur plans to enter the space, military, wearable and portable electronics, and robotics markets.
Piersica has filed three patents and is working on two more. The company shared its polymer material via licensing at the end of 2022. Pending fundraising, it will move to the prototype stage and begin testing in 2023. Bucur hopes to start the pilot phase by 2025.
The growing company has also hired two scientists and sponsors two graduate students to test and advance the technology.
Heading into the second round of funding, Piersica is attracting interest from major corporations. It raised nearly $2 million in its first round of funding.
Piersica was recently awarded four Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants: one from the National Science Foundation, one from the U.S. Army, and two from the U.S. Air Force. The Phase I grants total $685,000 and may lead to follow-on Phase II grants being awarded.