Imagine a futuristic-looking drone. A giant solar panel with wings that floats above some of the poorest and most inhospitable places on earth delivering the ‘lifeblood of learning’ - free wi-fi - to thousands of children for the first time.
Qichao Hu no longer needs to imagine it, because he made it a reality. As the inventor of the Gen 3 Li-Metal battery he and his team at SolidEnergy Systems doubled the life of the batteries used to stop these drones crashing to the ground at night – thus turning a great concept into a life-changing opportunity.
His own journey has been one of curiosity, discovery and national acclaim… followed by crushing disappointment and depression. It has led him from the hallowed halls of MIT, to the deserted factory of a bankrupt Massachusetts battery factory.
It all began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where Qichao and his colleagues were investigating whether the SONY Li-ion battery – an industry staple since 1991 – could be replaced.
“We noticed that several new types of salts were being developed in applications like industrial lubricant; and we picked up on some new polymers being developed in areas like drug delivery systems, bulletproof vests and car paint; then we incorporated new ion-conducting ceramics materials and new manufacturing process for thin metal foils. We slowly began to ask ourselves: Could these obscure materials work together inside a battery?”
The team soon developed a new battery design and proof-of-concept that integrated these new materials and was safe at room temperature - previously a major hurdle - while effectively doubling the energy density compared to conventional Li-ion batteries: A monumental breakthrough.