Two physicists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have been awarded a grant of over a $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop lithium-ion battery parts made from a unique, patented material called graphene monoxide. Their material is said to dramatically boost the energy storage capacity of li-ion batteries.
Dr. Carol Hirschmugl and Dr. Marija Gajdardziska-Josifovska, founders of UWM-incubated startup SafeLi, received a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant to further commercialize the material they created in their physics laboratories.
Safer, longer-lasting batteries that charge quickly and use new, low-cost materials compatible with battery manufacturing infrastructure are extremely sought-after for various applications. SafeLi aims to manufacture parts of the batteries, including anodes, that meet all of these requirements.
“Graphene monoxide, a novel nanomaterial that is a 2D solid crystalline form of carbon monoxide (CO), is the first and only solid form of CO known to mankind which occurs at room temperature and exhibits exciting properties,” said Gajdardziska-Josifovska.
To learn how to bring their discovery to the market, the physicists joined the Milwaukee I-Corps program, a partnership of five area universities dedicated to turning academic knowledge into products and startups. “Our anode material, due to its properties, has the potential to be disruptive in the battery market,” said Hirschmugl. “The I-Corps experience made our startup possible in a way that we never would have expected.”
The current funding is a Phase II grant that follows the successful completion of a Phase I technical and commercial proof-of-concept award. The Phase II grant will support the scaled-up production of graphene monoxide to enable the development of larger prototype batteries relevant for electric vehicles. It will also allow SafeLi to grow to 10 employees and to start pursuing angel, venture and/or corporate capital funding.
This grant brings the total federal and state funding for SafeLi to $1.5 million since the business was launched in December 2016. The company recently competed in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Competition, winning third prize in the Advanced Manufacturing Division that had more than 60 entrants, and won the first prize at the SEED SPOT pitch competition, co-hosted by the Association for Women in Science.
The STTR grant opportunity is unique, supporting a formal collaboration between SafeLi and UWM in Phase I and Phase II, and fulfilling STTR's role in bridging the gap between basic science and the commercialization of resulting innovations.