Natrion, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign student startup developing advanced battery technologies, captured the grand cash prize of $20,000 and other rewards at Wednesday’s Cozad New Venture Challenge Awards Ceremony.
During Cozad, Natrion announced its plans to move into EnterpriseWorks, the tech incubator at Research Park. Natrion will start advanced technology development in a first-floor lab as of May 1.
Natrion was founded by Alex Kosyakov, a Materials Science and Engineering undergraduate. The startup engineers and manufactures advanced batteries and battery components that make renewable energy and hybrid power systems safe and cost-efficient.
Natrion also received the Dr. Paul Magelli Innovation Prize of $10,000 from Illinois Ventures; the best pitch award winner prize of $5,000, from Cozad Asset Management; and a package of legal services from Meyer Capel.
AgriWater also received the I-Start prize from EnterpriseWorks. This prize provides new companies with professional services such as legal, business strategy, and more.
Agriwater’s smart, clean water technology is a device that purifies and monitors the most polluted water empowering farmers in real-time to track, visualize and store turbidity, pH, and temperature via IoT enabled sensors that communicate data to the AI Cloud.
With the help of the Illinois FAST Center, Natrion recently received SBIR grant funding from the United States Air Force to develop a plug-and-play solid-state electrolyte component for existing lithium-ion batteries that would improve battery life and eliminate fire risk.
“Natrion was started by two college students out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who wanted to break away from the standard mold of how battery companies are built. After seeing too many of our peers take academic research findings and try to find a market for them (only to run out of time and money), we pioneered our own R&D approach that is customer-centric, lean, and pivotable.”
To mitigate fire risk in batteries, many companies are attempting to implement electrolytes made from either pure solid ceramic or pure solid polymer. However, there are problems with this binary approach.
Pure ceramics deliver high performance but use exotic materials and processes that are expensive to scale. Ceramics can also crack inside batteries from internal stresses during operation, compromising them completely. Polymers are durable, flexible, and cheap to produce, but perform poorly.
To its knowledge, Natrion is the only company in the world commercializing a ceramic-polymer composite solution. To make LISIC, they start with a proprietary aluminosilicate ceramic that’s processed with the one-step heating of a raw material that costs just $160/ton and is already used in the paper and cosmetics industries. They then turn the ceramic into microparticles and embed it into a polymer that is already used as fire insulation in buildings.
LISIC is thus stable to over 600°F, eliminating inherent fire risk in cells. This, in turn, improves battery pack-level performance because manufacturers no longer have to try to use active cooling systems or extensive battery management system (BMS) electronics.