Christina Lampe-Onnerud Has A New Battery Design

Her "supercell architecture" fits existing Li-ion cells into more efficient battery packs

2 min read
Christina Lampe-Onnerud, CEO of Cadenza Innovation
Christina Lampe-Onnerud, CEO of Cadenza Innovation
Photo: World Economic Forum

Most attempts to improve lithium-ion batteries involve changes in the chemistry or components of a cell. But you can also work wonders on the larger scale of the battery pack—the array of cells that power big machines, like electric cars.

That’s the tack taken by Cadenza Innovation, a Connecticut firm started up by Christina Lampe-Onnerud, a Swedish battery maven we profiled back when electric automobiles were just getting going (“The Lady and the Li-ion,” March 2008). And because the strategy, which she calls a supercell architecture, allows for the packaging of different cell shapes and sizes, it means serving existing battery companies rather than supplanting them.

She declines to reveal which manufacturers Cadenza is negotiating with.

Lampe-Onnerud’s earlier initiatives centered on the cell itself, but that required her to play the sharp-elbowed game of mass manufacturing. That game is far harder to get into now that megacorporations have started building battery gigafactories.

“We simplify the architecture and manufacture of the batteries, eliminating quite a few parts,” she says. “That means there are more energy-carrying components and fewer surrounding components.” You can get from 30 to 100 percent more watt-hours per kilogram of battery pack, depending on the kind of cell being used and the number of cells in the array.

Exploded version of supecell architectureExploded view of the supercell architectureImage: Cadenza Innovation

Besides increasing energy density, the idea also cuts cost. One electrical connector can yoke together 20 or 30 cells, for instance. And, by offering a way to keep the familiar “jelly roll” cylindrical cells separate from one another, in a heat-resistance plastic frame resembling an egg crate, Cadenza makes it safer to be around all that close-packed energy.

egg-crate-like housing for cellsThis heat-resistant, egg-crate structure separates the “jelly roll’’ form of lithium-ion cellsPhoto: Cadenza Innovation

Other safety devices enter the mix as well, like a vent, a pressure dome, and a mechanical means of connecting and disconnecting cells. Of course, the tradeoff of energy density and safety goes in both directions: A customer can choose to pack even more cells into a battery while maintaining existing safety standards.

“You can say we’re packaging 20 years’ worth of best practice into a Lego block,” she laughs. “And it’s coming out when one of the best performaners, Samsung, overstepped what it should have done with its Galaxy phone.” 

The Conversation (0)

We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

Keep Reading ↓Show less