Cadenza Develops Novel Supercell Architecture for Large Lithium-Ion Batteries

Cadenza Innovation has created an innovative design that enhances the cost-effectiveness, performance, and safety of large lithium-ion batteries. Currently, with the help of a unique approach for disseminating that technology, the company will surely have an impact in industries such as industrial machines, energy grid storage, and electric vehicles.

Cadenza Innovation worked on this supercell-based electric vehicle chassis with automaker Fiat. The project received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program. (Image credit: Chris Carleton)

Instead of producing the batteries on its own, Cadenza licenses its technology to manufacturers who produce batteries for different applications. The company also collaborates with licensees to enhance their manufacturing processes and for the sale of the new batteries to end users. The approach assures that the technology developed by the four-year-old company is deployed widely and rapidly than would otherwise be possible.

The aim of Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Cadenza founder who is a former MIT postdoc and a battery industry veteran for over two decades, is to strive to develop the industry just as the global demand for batteries attains an inflection point.

The crazy idea at the time [of the company’s founding] was to see if there was a different way to engage with the industry and help it accept a new technology in existing applications like cars or computers. Our thought was, if we really want to have an impact, we could inspire the industry to use existing capital deployed to get a better technology into the market globally and be a positive part of the climate change arena.

Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Founder, Cadenza.

Bearing the huge goal in mind, the Connecticut-based company has secured collaborations with organizations at every level of the battery supply chain, including original equipment manufacturers, suppliers of industrial minerals, and end users. Cadenza has demonstrated its proprietary “supercell” battery architecture in Fiat’s 500e car model and has been working complete a demonstration energy storage system to be used by the New York Power Authority, the largest state public utility company in the U.S., when energy requirements are at their peak.

However, to date, the most significant collaboration of the company was declared in September with Shenzen BAK Battery Company, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of lithium-ion battery. The companies announced that BAK would start the mass production of batteries based on Cadenza’s supercell architecture in the first half of 2019.

The supercell architecture

Although the extensive contacts of Lampe-Onnerud in the lithium-ion battery industry and world-famous technical team have accelerated the growth of Cadenza, the fundamental driver of the company’s success is simple economics: it has been demonstrated that its technology offers manufacturers improved energy density in battery cells while minimizing production costs.

Cylindrical sheets of metal called “jelly rolls” power a majority of the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. While being used in huge batteries, it is possible to make the jelly rolls either large to restrict the total cost of battery assembly, or small to apply a highly efficient cell design that offers higher energy density. Various electric vehicle (EV) companies use large jelly rolls to eliminate concerns related to durability and safety that arise when the small jelly rolls are tightly packed into a battery, which could result in the failure of the entire battery in case one of the jelly rolls gets overheated.

Tesla is well known for achieving longer vehicle ranges by employing small jelly rolls in its batteries, solving safety problems using intricate circuitry, cooling tubes, and by spacing out each roll. However, Cadenza has patented a simpler battery system, named “supercell,” that enables small jelly rolls to be tightly packed together into a single module.

The most important aspect of the supercell is a noncombustible ceramic fiber material into which each jelly roll is placed similarly to an egg in a carton. The material assists in controlling the temperature throughout the cell and isolating damage caused by an overheated jelly roll. Other added safety aspects are a metal shunt wrapped around each jelly roll and a flame-retardant layer of the supercell wall that alleviates pressure in the case of a thermal event.

The improved safety enables Cadenza to tightly package the jelly rolls for higher energy density, and the simple design of the supercell, applied to various parts manufactured now at low costs and high volumes, maintains the production costs lower. Lastly, each supercell module is designed to click together similar to LEGO blocks, rendering it feasible for manufacturers to easily modify the battery sizes to satisfy customer requirements.

Cadenza’s cost, safety, and performance attributes were verified during a grant program with the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which awarded nearly $4 million to the company to test the architecture starting from 2013.

After the public launch of the supercell architecture in 2016, Lampe-Onnerud hit the headlines by stating that it can be applied for boosting the range of Tesla’s cars by 70%. Currently, the aim is to make the manufacturers use the architecture.

There will be many winners using this technology. We know we can deliver on the [safety, performance, and cost] claims. It’s going to be up to the licensee to decide how they leverage these advantages.

Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Founder, Cadenza.

At MIT, where “data gets to speak”

Lampe-Onnerud and her husband, Per Onnerud, who is Cadenza’s chief technology officer, held postdoctoral appointments at MIT after earning their PhDs at Uppsala University in their home country of Sweden. Lampe-Onnerud performed laboratory research in inorganic chemistry in close partnership with MIT materials science and mathematics professors, while Onnerud carried out studies in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The experience has had a deep impression on Lampe-Onnerud.

MIT was a very formative experience,” she says. “You learn how to argue a point so that the data gets to speak. You just enable the data; there’s no spin. MIT has a special place in my heart.”

Lampe-Onnerud has maintained a deep relationship with the Institute from the time, participating in alumni groups, she gave guest lectures on campus and served as a member of the MIT Corporation visiting committee for the chemistry department—all while being exceptionally successful in her career.

In 2004, Lampe-Onnerud founded Boston-Power, which she developed into an internationally recognized manufacturer of batteries for vehicles, consumer electronics, and industrial applications while serving as the CEO until 2012 when the company moved operations to China. In the beginning stages of the company, over seven years after Lampe-Onnerud had completed her postdoc work, she found the lasting nature of support from the MIT community.

We started looking for some angel investors, and one of the first groups that responded were the angels affiliated with MIT. We support each other because we tend to be attracted to intractable problems. It’s very much in the MIT spirit: We know, if we’re trying to solve big problems, it’s going to be difficult. So we like to collaborate.

Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Founder, Cadenza.

The high-profile experience at Boston Power earned her recognition, including the Technology Pioneer Award from the World Economic Forum, and Swedish Woman of the Year from the Swedish Women’s Educational Association. It also made some to call her the “Queen of Batteries.”

Right after leaving Boston-Power, Lampe-Onnerud and her husband started working on Cadenza’s supercell architecture in their garage. They strived to develop a solution that would help reduce the carbon footprint of the world; however, they predicted that, at most, they would be in a position to develop one gigafactory every 18 months if they were to produce the batteries themselves. Therefore, alternatively, they decided to license the technology.

From a business point of view, the approach has tradeoffs: Cadenza has required to raise considerably less capital than Boston-Power but will enable licensees to achieve topline and bottomline growth while it acquires a percentage of sales. Lampe-Onnerud is evidently cheerful to leverage her global network and share the advantages to increase Cadenza’s impact.

My hope is that we are able to bring people together around this technology to do things that are really important, like taking down our carbon footprint, eliminating NOx [nitrogen oxide] emissions, or improving grid efficiency. It’s a different way to work together, so when an element of this ecosystem wins, we all win. It has been an inspiring process.

Christina Lampe-Onnerud, Founder, Cadenza.

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