NanoGraf Technologies has demonstrated a novel high energy density Si-based anode material that has the long-term potential to replace graphite based anodes in lithium-ion batteries for a range of applications, from consumer electronics to electric vehicles. We caught up with Francis Wang, CEO of NanoGraf, to find out more!

What is the story behind NanoGraf?

Francis Wang: Lithium-ion batteries hold immense strategic importance on the path toward a more mobile and sustainable future.These batteries are responsible for powering everything from our smartphones to our electric vehicles. But the performance (lifespan, power output, and energy density) of these vital pieces of technology are tied to the limits of today’s stagnant battery systems.

Over the past decade, lithium-ion battery energy density improvements have plateaued, as traditional battery technologies and designs have been optimized to their theoretical limits.  

Pushing the boundaries of today’s battery performance requires next-generation technologies.

The origins of NanoGraf started in 2012, when a Northwestern University business student, Samir Mayekar, and chemistry student, Cary Hayner, were paired together for a school assignment. They started asking themselves what technologies over the next decade would have the greatest impact on battery energy density and how one could create a business around these technologies. Their solution: a novel high energy density silicon-based anode technology, which became the innovative and winning solution in the Rice Business Plan competition and the foundation for NanoGraf today.

What makes NanoGraf different?

Francis Wang: Advanced silicon-based anode technology is a hot topic these days, as there are numerous start-up companies racing to commercialize their flavor of silicon into the market. NanoGraf, however, differentiates itself in three main ways:

First, NanoGraf’s proprietary silicon-based technology enables longer-lasting, higher-power output, lower-bulk and lower-weight batteries than what are currently available on the market.

Second, our battery material can be seamlessly integrated into existing lithium-ion battery manufacturing norms. In other words, our products are drop-in replacements for existing anode technologies and can be taken to market quicker, and at a fraction of the cost.

Finally, the advanced silicon-anode landscape has a diverse range of material solutions which have complex, expensive, and unfamiliar production methods. In contrast, NanoGraf has developed technologies and products with cost and scale in mind. Our products have already been scaled to multi-ton levels, and are able to meet the aggressive cost requirements of the emerging mass markets like electric vehicles.

What have you learnt?

Francis Wang: I’ve learned countless lessons as a first time entrepreneur and CEO. But my key takeaway so far has been learning the importance of resilience and persistence. There are many dark moments in the development of a technology, product, and a company. The ability to “dust yourself off” and “get back into the ring” with the will to win has been the foundation of what makes NanoGraf successful. 

What are the plans for NanoGraf in the future?

Francis Wang: In my 20+ years in the battery industry, there has been no period greater than today in terms of growth opportunities. This is all being driven by the electrification of automobiles over the next decade which is expected to grow the battery industry exponentially. Silicon anodes are widely recognized as the key driver to battery performance improvement, and in turn, extended electric vehicle range. NanoGraf aims to become the leading silicon anode producer in the world. We are actively expanding our production capabilities in 2021-2022, and our goal is to reach a scale and cost point which can compete with much larger competitors.

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