Government and Sustainability

Scientist selected for DOE program

Chain Reactions Innovation program helps entrepreneurs improve their respective technologies.

May 11, 2018
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A West Michigan scientist will join a team of entrepreneurs in a two-year program to enhance the development of their respective technologies.

Tom Guarr, co-founder and chief scientist of Jolt Energy Storage, was selected to participate in the Chain Reactions Innovation program sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and Office Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, as well as Argonne National Laboratory.

Guarr and Volta Power Systems co-founder Jack Johnson founded Jolt in 2014 to “revolutionize” the field of energy storage by creating organic compounds. The company is located in the Michigan State University Bioeconomy Institute in Holland, where Guarr also serves as director of the Organic Energy Storage Laboratory.

Presently, Jolt is trying to commercialize a chemical additive for lithium-ion batteries designed to prevent overcharging — a problem Guarr noted was famous in Samsung phones — and to reduce the cost of a battery pack.

With Jolt being selected to participate in the CRI program, Guarr said he hopes to extend the same chemistry to develop large-scale applications like grid storage for solar and wind power. The technology centers on a molecular design that enables the production of a new type of “flow cell battery” for energy storage.

“Energy from renewable sources is generally variable in nature, and overall system reliability depends on the ability to store energy for later use,” he said. “Our technology will allow your local utility company to better utilize these renewable sources, delivering smooth, consistent power output even with variable input.”

Guarr added Jolt systems also could provide reliable home energy storage for off-grid living or for backup energy during power outages.

CRI is a two-year program that provides funding, R&D support, dedicated laboratory and office space, and access to a dynamic innovation ecosystem.

The program received 83 applications from across the country. Ten finalists then competed in a live pitch and Q&A competition at the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois.

“I was pretty excited to be joining the group of innovators at Argonne,” Guarr said. “It’s a pretty rigorous selection program.”

John Carlisle, director of CRI, said he saw a lot of himself in Guarr during the selection process.

Carlisle co-founded Advanced Diamond Technologies, which spun out of Argonne, in 2003. ADT is a developer of diamond coating for industrial, semiconductor, manufacturing and water treatment applications.

“I’m an example of a midcareer scientist that chose to form a company myself,” he said. “For Tom, having courage, midcareer, to found a new company and get it out into the new market; I love that story.”

CRI also is embedding the six entrepreneurs in the Argonne lab because it has the specific resources to allow the appointees to test their technologies without costing millions of dollars.

“Most energy technologies are expensive, costing literally millions of dollars just to get to the point where something is able to be presented to the customer,” Carlisle said.

Lakeshore Advantage supported Jolt in the earliest stages of development by helping secure funds through a Business Accelerator Fund grant, a resource available through the Holland SmartZone, to test its solution that improves safety, cost and performance in lithium-ion batteries.

“We look forward to what’s next for this first MSU Bioeconomy spinout through the Argonne National Labs opportunity, with expectations that this experience will catapult Jolt to its next milestone,” said Angela Huesman, Lakeshore Advantage COO.

Carlisle said the innovation team would begin its research June 4.

“I’m really pleased with this group,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing their cross synergies.”

Guarr will be working alongside Erika Boeing, founder and CEO of Accelerated Wind; Chad Husko, Alexei Abrikosov fellow at Argonne National Laboratory; David Manosalvas-Kjono, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University; “Ted” Jung Woo Seo, who is currently working toward the commercialization of advanced electrode fabric technology; and Veronika Stelmakh, co-founder and CEO of Mesodyne, Inc.

Jolt has licensed several pieces of intellectual property from MSU relating to the use of organic compounds in batteries. The relevant technology was developed in the Organic Energy Storage Laboratory at the Michigan State University Bioeconomy Institute.

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