Nicholas Grundish: Creating More Sustainable Batteries That Charge Faster and Last Longer – EP. 165

About This Episode:

Joining us today is Nicholas Grundish, who earned a Ph.D. in Materials Science and studied under a Nobel Prize recipient.

Now he’s putting his battery tech to use for EnergyX, a company that’s secured tens of millions in funding with GM leading their Series B with 50 million.

What does this mean for you and me? Batteries in our cars and everyday devices will soon charge faster, be more safe, and have dramatically increased capacity.

I love people who are building a more sustainable future in eminently practical ways.

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1:24 – “The last couple of years, specifically, demand for lithium-ion batteries has really improved because people are starting to realize, especially when, during Covid, when everyone was forced to stay home and there wasn’t as much pollution and things like that, we saw sort of overnight the effect that we are really having on the environment. So people started to realize the importance of going green and energy storage and sources of renewable energy. And I think that’s really when things started kick starting towards battery technology and energy storage.”

7:38 – “I think the countries where you find some of these rare earth minerals, if they want to continue to take advantage of their natural resources, are going to have to find ways to more sustainably mine those materials or we’re just, we’re simply going to move on, right? We’re going to find technology that phases out those minerals, or we’re going to find a way to recycle so that we don’t have to pull any more out of the ground. I think we’re going to find a way around a lot of these problems…I’m a firm believer that through recycling, through more efficient means of sourcing materials from the earth, we’re going to get there. It’s just, it’s going to take a moment or a few years for the supply chain to catch up to current demand. It’s just like any supply demand cycle.”

9:52 – “We’re limited by the periodic table, right? If you want something that has, that you can get extremely large amounts of energy out of without having something that weighs a ton or takes up an incredible amount of space, you can only go so high on the periodic table, right? There’s lithium and then there’s hydrogen and they all have their own problems, trade-offs and things like that. So, I mean, I think we’re going to shift from this idea that lithium-ion batteries or just lithium-based chemistries are the be all end all to more of an approach where, okay, well, cost is more of a constraint here so maybe we look at a sodium-ion battery or even potassium, magnesium, calcium. There’s a lot of alternative chemistries that still have a ways to go in their development. But as those sort of breakthroughs come, I’m a firm believer that we’ll shift towards much more of an application-based system.”

16:29 – “In the battery space, we’re transitioning, so a normal lithium-ion battery, essentially, you have, you assemble it in a discharged state. Really, if you think about it, you’re at a lithium deficiency because all of the lithium that’s responsible for the energy storage is in one side of the battery and part of it gets consumed actually, when you first charge the battery to stabilize all the different interfaces you have. So what we’re doing is we’re transitioning from having lithium only on one side of the battery to having lithium on both sides. And one side is actually pure lithium metal. So you actually have a lithium excess. So as some of that lithium is consumed, you have additional lithium that you can then draw upon so you’re never at a deficiency. And that really has a lot of advantages. You don’t need as much total material in the battery to store all that energy. So you end up getting more energy per unit weight and more energy per unit volume, which is two of the most important metrics when you think about electric vehicles or consumer electronics.”

19:57 – “I think it’s definitely conceivable to exceed 500 miles per charge. If you maximize every component, I would say it’s possible to exceed 600 miles per charge, but that’s going to be, I think it’s a little bit more of a logarithmic curve, right? You’re going to see, if we enable this technology, you’re going to jump up and then it’s going to be slow incremental improvements to that 600+ mark.”

21:41 – “If you’re on a road trip, you don’t want to have to stop and charge your vehicle every two hours or something like that. And then, of course, finding charging stations, the whole charging infrastructure, all of it is sort of a pain. I mean, if you break down in between cities in Texas, that could be, you could be an hour or more away from the nearest charging station….Charging infrastructure does need to improve, but I think companies like Tesla, Rivian, to some degree Lucid, all of these emerging electric car companies are doing a lot for calming people’s concerns.”

28:00 – “I had the opportunity to work with John Goodenough at UT. That’s where I did my PhD and he changed my life in a lot of ways. Obviously I learned how to perform experiments and think about problems in the material science area. And he taught me, I mean he did teach me how to think properly is how I would phrase it to some degree. But just his approach to life and how it really was, I mean, I started working with him when he was 93. So the fact that he was still driving himself to work every day, coming into the office when he could have retired many, many years before, just seeing that level. And he outworked a lot of us in the laboratory, too. I mean, a lot of his postdocs went home before he did. And just seeing that level of dedication and understanding where it was coming from, I think was a very profound moment in my life. And I really, I wanted to do nothing short of emulate that and really try to capture that sort of internal peace that I saw he had.”

33:58 – “Work on the problems that really interest you and everything else will fall into place. And I guess something that’s tangentially related to that is, something that Goodenough said all the time that’s, that’s really stuck with me is, we should really be focusing on competing against problems and not other people. Obviously when you’re in industry and you have real competitors all trying to beat each other out, that’s one thing. But when it comes to the mundane people problems that I witness, people developing friction with each other, it’s just, it’s not worth the effort. It’s not worth the time. Focus on, we should all be focused on solving problems and not creating them.”

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