division of the once-prominent consulting
firm Arthur D. Little for $16.5 million. “It
bothers me that so many wonderful inventions are stagnating,” he told the New York
Times after the purchase.
And it’s only gotten worse since then,
he says now.
Sahin has come to believe that a deep
innovation crisis in the United States
is smothering clean-energy startups in
their infancy. The short, cheap path to
disruption that works for online businesses routinely fails in energy, where
new companies face years of development,
high manufacturing costs, and deeply
He argues that startups in the sector
should focus on what startups do best—
innovating—while finding ways to partner
with established companies to transform
advances into products. That strategy
could o;er better odds of long-term survival for any given firm, he says.
At CAMX, Sahin is hoping to put this
theory into action. The appeal of using a
greater proportion of nickel in lithium-ion battery cathodes is the metal’s high
energy density. That means it can store
and release a lot of the lithium ions that
ultimately power gadgets and cars, delivering energy over long periods between
charges. Using more nickel also makes it
possible to use significantly less cobalt,
which is rare and expensive.
But most work on high-nickel cathodes to date, including research on the
same basic mix of lithium, nickel, and
oxide that CAMX is using, has consistently
run into stability problems that shorten a
battery’s life. That’s an obvious drawback
in vehicles, since no one wants to buy a
$35,000 car that only lasts three years.
CAMX, however, has developed
and patented a molecularly engineered
composition that stabilizes the materials
by placing small amounts of cobalt in cru-
cial areas. This advance amounts to a new
class of lithium-ion cathodes that could
enable cheaper electric vehicles with lon-
ger range, according to Sahin.
In an investor presentation last fall,
Johnson Matthey said the CAMX mate-
rials delivered as much as a 25 percent
improvement in energy density over
the nickel-manganese-cobalt cathode
materials used in many electric vehicles
today, and about a 5 percent gain over an
advanced chemistry going into upcoming
models. The company announced that it
will invest around $260 million to begin
building the first plant to produce the
materials in 2018.
Think like Facebook
Despite the obvious need for better energy
storage and the excitement around new
approaches, the marketplace has been
brutal for startups in this sector so far.
The high cost of manufacturing, the B U C
A researcher at work in CAMX Power’s cell-fabrication facility.