BUILDING A BETTER BATTERY is a series that started in response to a reader’s comment about the length of time it’s taking to commercialize our 3D Silicon™ Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery. Part One benchmarked the most recent battery breakthrough, and presented an explanation as to why there has been no significant advancement in battery performance over the past quarter-century. Part Two benchmarked product breakthroughs essential to modern mobility—ICs, LEDs and LCDs—that are produced with photolithography and wafer production.
Here are the major takeaways from the first two posts:
It took 12 years from the breakthrough discovery by John Goodenough until Sony commercialized the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery in 1991.
Since then, battery startups with novel chemistries have faltered before they reached full production, in large part, because they were not funded beyond initial research.
It took 15 years or longer for IC, LED and LCD technology to progress from invention to commercialization for the computing, lighting and display applications essential to modern mobile devices.
Enovix Corporation was founded in 2007 (initially under the operating name microAzure). The co-founders had deep expertise in 3D architecture, battery technology, materials science, photolithography and wafer production—with dozens of patents among them. Three of the co-founders assumed leadership positions at Enovix. They previously had worked together at IBM, where they helped pioneer 3D architecture for hard-drive read-write heads. After that, they had held senior positions in operations and engineering at FormFactor. There they helped develop patented 3D MEMS contact technology for semiconductor wafer testing and scale it to high-volume production and commercialization. This contributed to a successful IPO in 2003.
Enovix began with a well-formed technical and business vision, including:
Li-ion chemistry was capable of providing significantly greater energy density much more safely. The problem was not the chemistry, it was the design and production techniques borrowed from audio cassette tape.
3D architecture could improve spatial efficiency and increase the energy density of a Li-ion battery, and it could incorporate improved safety features. It could utilize a wide range of existing electrode materials, and it also could liberate materials selection from the limitations of conventional Li-ion battery design and construction. This would allow Enovix to fully utilize any and all future advances in electrode materials.
Photolithography and wafer production techniques could be used for 3D Li-ion battery production. This would allow Enovix to leverage inevitable future advancements for continued improvements in spatial efficiency (performance) and high-volume, low-cost production (scale and price).
To build and retain enterprise value, Enovix would need to own its intellectual property (rather than license it) and control battery production (rather than delegate it to third-parties). And it would take several hundred million dollars to reach commercialization.
There was no set timeframe for Enovix to reach commercialization. But there was a deliberate, methodical, multi-stage plan to progress from 1) proof-of-concept research through 2) development and pilot production to 3) high-volume manufacturing and commercialization. In the next post, I’ll describe what we’ve done to date.