Bringing Chemistry to Life

Batteries unplugged: past, present and the electrifying future

Episode Summary

Laptops, phones, cars all need batteries – making them essential to our everyday lives. But sustainable battery innovation is critical to a greener future and it’s what drives entrepreneur and innovator Simon Engelke. Linking research to industry, he gives his perspective on sustainability, geopolitics, and what’s next on a global scale. Whether you get charge out of chemistry or share Simon’s passion for a better battery, don’t miss this powerful first episode of Season 5 of Bringing Chemistry to Life.

Episode Notes

Electricity undeniably changed the world and enabled countless other technologies. Now, via storage and mobile access to electrical energy, batteries are positioned to further enable us as a species. So, it is the perfect time to get to know battery technology innovator and entrepreneur, Dr. Simon Engelke, Founder and Chair of Battery Associates, as he shares his passion for sustainable battery innovation. Any battery enthusiast will feel recharged by this electrifying conversation about the past, present, and future of battery technology.  

As a child, Simon was fascinated with energy sources and storage and recalls playing with the fuel cell toy car from his father. In his teens, he indulged his entrepreneurial spirit by starting his first small company. Fast forward through his globally sourced academic training, always focused on electrochemistry and battery-related research, to find Simon leading a company at the forefront of the battery community and technology.  

In our conversation, Simon touches on battery fundamentals; how they work, how they’re produced, the various types, and the work involved in optimizing various components, as well as the geopolitical aspects of batteries. We got this insider to school us on how they’ve evolved, what’s next in battery technology and what’s needed from the global community to responsibly realize the potential that battery technology represents. 

Season 5 of Bringing Chemistry to Life starts now! 

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About Your Host

Paolo Braiuca grew up in the North-East of Italy and holds a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from nearby esteemed University of Trieste, Italy. He developed expertise in biocatalysis during his years of post-doctoral research in Italy and the UK, where he co-founded a startup company. With this new venture, Paolo’s career shifted from R&D to business development, taking on roles in commercial, product management, and marketing. He has worked in the specialty chemicals, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical markets in Germany and the UK, where he presently resides.

He is currently the Director of Global Market Development in the Laboratory Chemicals Division at Thermo Fisher Scientific™ which put him in the host chair of the Bringing Chemistry to Life podcast. 

A busy father of four, in what little free time he has, you’ll find him inventing electronic devices with the help of his loyal 3D-printer and soldering iron. And if you ask him, he’ll call himself a “maker” at heart. 

Episode Transcription

Simon Engelke, PhD  00:06

For me, the battery industry is a key technology for every single country in the world.


Paolo  00:15

We covered dozens of topics in the scientific world over our first four seasons of Bringing Chemistry to Life - from wastewater treatments to the chemistry of stars. And today, we kick off our fifth season of the show, with a topic so common that you're almost surely surrounded by them right now. Batteries. Dr. Simon Engelke, Founder and Chair of Battery Associates, is our intrepid guide. And I'm your host, Paolo Braiuca, along for the ride. Thanks for joining us for episode one of our fantastic new season of conversations. We began as we often do, by asking Simon about his first formative experiences with science.


Simon Engelke, PhD  00:57

There's probably many stories one could tell, and I think the two key ones for me probably will be, one, as a kid actually got, there was like a toy, like a fuel cell car toy I got from my dad, which I think I was really inspired by and really excited about and tricking with it. And so, I was quite lucky to have this.


Paolo  01:14

You had a fuel cell with hydrogen?


Simon Engelke, PhD  01:16

With hydrogen. Yeah, for kids! 


Paolo  01:17

Oh, wow.


Simon Engelke, PhD  01:18

So, this was a cool, and I'm still courting this company, sometimes to make a battery version of this one day. But yeah, this was really, really cool. And definitely got me excited, but I already showed me some flaws at the time, but to go into it, but um, you know, it really got me excited. And then another thing in Berlin, where I grew up, we actually had the nine science nights. So, you could like, so where they opened up lots of research institutes. And as you know, as a kid, you could go there and look at things and I will never forget the first time they showed me an atom. Like with a, you know, very high-resolution microscope, a tunneling microscope. I was just really like, "Wow! Okay, this looks really, really fascinating." And so yeah, I think this has some early memories. And in between, I was able to continue my career in the battery industry and do quite a few things on there.


Paolo  02:07

So why chemistry? Any other scientists in a family? Where is this interest coming from? It's just yourself.


Simon Engelke, PhD  02:15

I think here again, like it's my life is probably in probably many people's lives is very connected with people. And I had a really inspiring chemistry teacher in high school, who was Tito Paulick. And yeah, he was like, I think he really did for a lot of people. And I think he really inspired me from learning, but also really on the chemistry as a, I think we had an open day and that's also what drew me to the school, actually, he showed us, you know, how you can change the color of fire, right. And he had like, little, little experiments we could do, and we'd look at the school and I was like, "This is gonna be it." Right. And this was really, really fascinating. And he was just really inspiring person. And I mean, he pushed us, and he said, one day, he will be invited to the Nobel Prize for one of his students. Not sure I've got to get help him with that, but at least he really got us inspired to push the boundaries in science. He definitely got me started on this journey.


Paolo  03:04

I know you did your PhD in Cambridge, right? Can you tell me about your research back then?


Simon Engelke, PhD  03:10

Yeah, in Cambridge I was spending my time on, you know, quite, you know, I was just looking at old photos funny enough today. And like, really in the lab hands on, you know, doing research pretty much almost every day in the lab or so. And, you know, trying to make improved battery electrodes. So, one of the components is the battery. Again, I think that's one thing, I definitely think it's always amazed me, you know, I think it's so fun for people when people ask me outside of the research field, or outside of chemistry or sciences wide, and they're like, "Hey, what did you do PhD in?" And I would say, “In batteries.” And they would say like, "This is extremely specific." And I'm like, "You have no idea." It’s just it's like, you know, it's just on top of the iceberg. I just like this little, I mean, like, you go down the rabbit hole of it. And I was looking at this really nitty gritty component in the battery and look at the porosity, develop like new testing methods. And again, like, it's such a massive field for me, like, this small thing I did, but from the outside world just feel like really, really small what you work on. Yeah, long story short, I was working on batteries, I was looking at components, how to make them better. But also the chance to collaborate, which was fantastic at the time as well. There are a lot of people around and it was very collaborative environment. Love, I mean, as you said, batteries, very exciting topics, a lot of people, a lot of other research groups want to suddenly do something as batteries, and I could collaborate with them and test different things they created and just test them in the batteries context. So, this was really fun.


Paolo  04:35

So, it feels to me the research on batteries is a lot about the nanostructure, how you assemble and how the various components interact with each other. And it has much to do with you know, the chemistry of them, as it has to do with a sort of nanostructure or microstructural element of the assembly, you know, device. Um, and, you know, it's quite mind blowing how many details and you know how much the sort of the nanostructure, you know, the organization at a nanoscale level can influence the macroscopic properties of the battery. So, we'll get, we'll get into that. How did you end up, and why, founding Battery Associates? And what do you guys actually do? Can you describe a bit more of what the company is?


Simon Engelke, PhD  05:25

That's very fascinating, right? So, I thought originally, and I think it's always good if you start a business, think about like, well, would you like to have? Or will you closely know, right? And I was just, you know, finished PhD. And I thought I would love to get more insights into the real world, right? Like, what's happening industry, what is actually required there? What are the big trends and outside my research bubble, maybe a bit more? So, like I, we started this training, which more like more industry focused more business, getting these other insights. And funnily enough, it was really well adopted by industry. So now about 90% or so are from industry, right. And we have to pick out a model such as Tesla and Volkswagen, taking it but also battery companies and consultants and suppliers and people in over 40 countries and a lot of the household names. So, this has been the training. So that's our BatteryEDU arm, if you develop other training programs, we need to educate, upskill, and it's just a big topic, right? You mentioned the battery industry is booming. There's a lot of opportunities. But there's not too many people yet in this space. Like, I spent my PhD and stuff, but there's not too many people have done that. Right. Like, I mean, I know a lot, I think but if you then ask friends, they don't nobody, right. So there's a lot of room there. And then the second thing was more Battery Pro, which is more consulting arm, where we then were like, okay, now we have this knowledge, we develop knowledge, we hire great people from industry, you know, and I'm from consulting, etc. And how can we now bring this knowledge into organizations who need it most urgently, right now. That's kind of more the consulting arm. And then the third thing is our own innovation, like battery lab. And that's really the idea. We also want to build tools, because there is a lot of development and also globally, I really believe there has to be a global battery landscape. And I think we need more tools for them to actually do the research. So that's why we started the battery testing side to develop like a more simple battery testing device. Also, from a training education perspective, or researcher perspective. And then this, you know, more time, maybe build something more commercial grade, but for now, to the idea of bring this, you know, tools in a lot of hands, you know, like, you know, people's hands and build like tools for them. And there's a lot of other tools we have in mind, which can really help people to get hands on experience without being in lab. Because that's also one thing I really noticed was, I was super lucky. I was in Cambridge. I was in Berkeley. I had like this state of the art research equipment. And I was like, in the toy store, right? Like, for researcher, like, it was amazing, like the tools we had, which was incredible. And there's also big appeal, I think, right to be in these spaces, which was really fascinating. But the majority of people doesn't have this right. And even great researchers and talent is global. I truly believe that and how can we provide the knowledge, the access, and the tools also to these other regions? So, they can also contribute on this and be part of it in a more intimate way?


Paolo  08:03

Is there anything that governments are doing in Europe, in general, to support, you know, a similar mission?


Simon Engelke, PhD  08:10

Well, 100% Yeah. I mean, Europe is big on this. And I mean, you look at just the targets from, you know, have a visa or like, have non- emitting, you know, vehicles for 2035. And when there's a lot of support, like, this gives big guidance, right, from a demand side. And that's the thing, right, like, and it's exciting, like any very popular subject will have a lot of people want to be part of it. And will say a lot of things to, you know, to be part of it. And so, we have seen definitely a lot of announcements, and some of them are more credible, you could say or work out more than others. And then, of course, we also have seen challenges in a good way I feel, with Inflation Reduction Act in the US. Like a massive, you know, I've seen, you know,  a lot of many billions and statistics, I mean, we have to kind of update them all the time, because just the investment in the US Inflation Reduction Act. So, we announced what a year. So, it's been amazing, right. And this has been a real challenge, because suddenly European companies, maybe consider a move to the US because they get better subsidies and support over there. 


Paolo  09:05

Yeah, and it felt like it happened overnight. Right. So, Europe had such a, such an advantage, you know, this got gotten much earlier, but you know, the US right now seems to be moving a lot faster. I was couple of weeks ago was the clean energy forum that Thermo Fisher Scientific organized in San Diego. I'm sure you were aware of at least the event happening. And it was fascinating, you know, how much they think about governance and policies you know. And it was something that was impactful to me. Stan Wittingly said, actually said, "Hey, you know what, what has been going on in Asia for several years now is basically our supply chain, you know, a value chain, which is fundamental really based on 30-year-old technology, right?And there's a lot, there's been a lot of progress on several elements of the batteries, right, a lot better understanding. And we don't necessarily want to copy what has been going on in Asia, because it wouldn't make economic sense unless, you know, the governments are happy to keep subsidizing this forever  to be competitive." What is your, what is your perspective on this statement?


Simon Engelke, PhD  10:25

This is a really fascinating, right, because we talked to a lot of experts who are well, for many reasons, right, inour work. And I think was very interesting, because we spoke to, like you know, players with like, to experts and have been in Europe, right, and then back to Asia and other rounds as well. People have been in Asia or went to Europe. And they kind of felt like also, it's this classic saying of the grass is greener on the other side, because I think everyone in Europe will talk about oh, China, and like Asia is all the way, you know, they are way more innovative that way ahead of us, and then we will talk to actors, then oh, but actually, they think Europe is more innovative. And so, it's also like, interesting. And again, I think it's somewhere in between, right. I think that's just innovative players in each side, I think. I think there's definitely something about scale up. Right? And I think on the manufacturing, I think this has been a big topic. But of course, there's ambition there, right? So, I think if you are a European company, and you want to build your own production, you do it with the aim that you will bring something new to the table, right that you will bring in new innovative processes. And you have to believe that because otherwise, we just buy what's on the market, right? You have to believe that you can contribute something special, and advantage from the crowd. I think it's always good for these industries, when there is some variety, right? Like it's, it's never good if one of these, which is because again, for me, the battery industry is a key technology for every single country in the world. And if you look at this from this lens, will be greater if there's a bit more well distributed, because I think there's a small fair, right? So, I think for me, it's just about, yeah, how can we get like industry, you know, not just one region, but also different regions. That's part of what we also aim for, right? Like, if we really can get this to more regions, I think it's a step-by-step approach. So, we started with, you know, looking at the main markets, but we also, for example, launched 1000 scholarships,  that you want one scholarships, which we awarded over the past year. And we saw a big uptake, now in over 90 countries, and by 20 plus African countries and have seen low profiles would usually maybe be less, you know, looked at, and they see this interest as motivation. So, I would love you know, like longer term, that all of these regions also have their own industry.


Paolo  12:30

We hope you're enjoying this episode of Bringing Chemistry to Life. I steal just 30 seconds from your listening for a reminder and for a request. If you work in research, in the laboratory, you're probably used or at some point in your career. I just wanted to remind you that you can keep finding the same products and a lot more on  If you haven't done so already, please give it a try. And I come to the request. If you like this podcast, why don't you share it with a friend or colleague, let's share the love of science. And now back to our conversation


Paolo  13:13

It’s probably in everybody's economic industry, their economic interest that this industry expands properly globally, right, and, you know, it just cannot be taken and isolated in some pockets. Because so much on our, you know, energy management politics depend on, on this access, and sort of adoption of appropriate proper battery technology. I guess, to jump into some of the details of the economics of it, and the sort of even geopolitical elements of it, I think it'd be nice to sort of get a bit techie, right, and speak a bit a bit more about what the battery is. Because, you know, there's so many different parts of batteries, but, you know, these days, you know, the whole topic is the lithium ion. Right? That's, that's where a lot of the efforts and the focus is and that's where the market shows the biggest promises. But you know, but there's also some innovations at the horizons, you know, and to be able to get there probably the best wayfor the benefit of the audience will be if you try and describe, the battery, or maybe going more specifically into the lithium technology. You know, how it is, how it works, what's the chemistry inside and then we can try and dissect and think step by step from there if you, if you're okay?


Simon Engelke, PhD  14:37

Sure, I'm happy to. And I think, I mean there's many ways to approach it, but I think if you want to make a very simple right, if you look at a classic battery, right you have three main components right. You're operating with so you have two electrodes, one anode, one cathode, right on each side which can store you know your ion here for example, lithium-ion battery, you know your lithium ions and there can be gel between.  What's in between you have a separate electrolyte, right. So, the idea is that your ions can move in between, but the electrons must move outside through your circuit, right. And that provides, it powers your device, right. And so those are like the three main components, right and again, very simplified. Then, for lithium-ion battery, the ion we're using is lithium. If you look at the periodic table, we know these is very light, an ion, right, very small. So, it's quite attractive because you can store a lot of them and these different electrodes on each side, but lithium ion has been quite attractive, because there's a few things, especially if you compare those to previous technologies like alkaline, etc., right. We can be recharge it. So, it's reversible process that's very attractive. So, we can, you know, that's why now we don't have to charge over like our laptop, we don't have to, luckily take our batteries out all the time, we can recharge it again and use it again. On the other hand, what's also quite nice as memory effects, so the batteries last a long time, so we don’t have this memory effect, so we can do, let's say 1000s or so charges and discharges. So, it lasts quite a long time. That's what was for phone, we can use it for multiple years if we use it every day, what people are doing the research side, right for batteries, for example, you would look at what are the different materials you're using for these different components of the battery. So here we have the cathode, you know, and then the anode. And for the cathode is the more expensive part using the battery. There's a different kind of chemistry, battery chemistry, you could use. So, LCO - lithium cobalt oxide - is the old one you could say has been the early devices right and phones, etc. It's  quite energy dense, quite nice, but also has some drawbacks and then it has also about a third cobalt nickel. Right. So, we have like, you know, we have lithium cobalt oxide. So, like, so we have a lot of cobalt, about a third so in the battery. And then you have NMC which is more like the NCA, there's a modern chemistry is we using for automotive for example. Nickel manganese oxide, like we have cobalt oxide, or we have manganese is there as well, for we can an aluminum for NCA, and essentially can do a lot of kind of tweaks that will essentially what it allows us to do is reduce the cobalt content but increase the nickel content, which then can also allow us again, like its higher energy density. But also, cobalt is expensive. Also, a lot of concerns with the supply for example, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, an African country. There's about 6% or so that comes from there and has some also human rights issues and concerns there. So, there's also drive to reduce that content. So again, LCO is more for phones nowadays and NMC and NCA for cars. And then we have now LFP, is L for lithium, F for iron, and then P for phosphate, and here we are replacing and removing, again, the nickel and remaining cobalt. So here, we don't have any of them anymore, we only have the lithium. So, we only have the iron and the phosphate. And what's quite nice here is again, we can reduce the cost because we don't need the cobalt and the nickel. But the energy density again is a bit lower. Now one more step, right. If you say now, “Okay, we replace cobalt because we don't want to use it. We have replaced nickel.” And now you could even say, “Let's replace lithium.” Then you could do sodium ion batteries. Right? So now the topic which actually I did in the US at Berkeley, when I was researching there, they felt really far have felt like a long time away. And but I was researching them, etc. And now suddenly becomes popular because people say they can actually make it work now. And yeah, so that's quite exciting. Because again, we don't need lithium, so you can potentially reduce the cost again, the lifetime is not as good right now. But there's hope to improve it.


Paolo  18:40

What is the typical sort of direction that the research on a chemical level? I would say, you know, it takes?


Simon Engelke, PhD  18:48

Yeah, that's really again, on a chemistry, I mean, I can maybe do some dopants or two, I think the key topics have really been on the structuring right of the size so that you essentially issues LFP it's not so conductive, right? So, it's so you have to kind of increase that, and that you can do this with reducing the particle size, right, and different solvents and different structuring and then other ones carbon coatings as well are two major approaches there.


Paolo  19:12

There's a lot going on, going on the anode side of things right? You know, in theory, you could even use lithium metal right, as it is, but it does is its drawbacks. And so, you know, people tend to use these carbon materials graphite or silica or silicon, these sort of things. Can you help me explain us what's the logic behind it and how it works?


Simon Engelke, PhD  19:42

Yeah, I think there's two main things you can do with your anode. Graphite is working quite well right like it's works fine. But the two reasons really why are you pushing for new things, you mentioned silica lithium, which is more one bucket and then you have other ones like LTO, aluminum oxides etc., which is more another bucket.  And the two buckets will be one is increasing energy density by like having longer life EV, might have longer range one where it was lithium, metal, and silicon. And other side you have faster charging what was LTO, and you have it with no oxides and others. This electronic consumer, you can see why both makes sense, right. So, some people want a vehicle which was once longer, so they never have to don't have recharge as often, and they can do longer, longer range. And others are like more from an approach to say, “I don't need as big of a battery, but I can just charge it in five minutes and ten minutes, and I'm fine.” It's also fascinating, because if you work with a new technology like this, you also keep competing against improving of the status quo. What I mean with that, as people keep tricking the graphite and the cathodes and get their better, as well with additives, and all these kind of fun bits, right?  So, if you bring in a new chemistry, and then you have another one, which may be lower than you today, but they're going to keep improving, maybe it's not 20, whatever, percent a year, probably not. But maybe it's like 3%, or 5%, or whatever, right, but they keep doing it every year. And you maybe bring 20% improvement or whatever, but then they kind of creep up on you, and maybe you have to stay on top. So, I think that's also really exciting. There's still a lot of room for exploration.


Paolo  21:12

What are the, what is the so degradation of the battery coming from? Is it more related to sort of chemical side reactions to happen? Or is it more of a mechanical problem, a structural level?


Simon Engelke, PhD  21:26

It's a bit of a mixture, right. And it's, that's makes it also be complex. But essentially, it's chemistry, you could say, you know, you have to be some site reaction, right, of something. And contamination as well can be an issue. Of course, producers want to reduce that risk, and there's no quality control, but something in there. Then also cracking mechanically. You mentioned part of your cracking, disconnecting from the current collector, something we didn't talk about before more was the anode and cathode, the, you know, coated, usually on the metal foil for better electrical conductivity. And that's, yeah, if they kind of lose your particles, they're not electrically conductive anymore, they cannot, you know, they cannot be connected with electron, so then you lose them essentially as a partaking in your in your reaction.


Paolo  22:11

It's fascinating. And in many ways, you know, the analytics as, you know, a room for improvement, right? There's a lot of tools, but you know, I know that from the engineering perspective, there's still, you know, need for innovation in terms of inline quality control, right. And this is what lead me to the to the engineering element of the batteries. You just mentioned in passing, you know, basically your electrodes get coated or right on pieces of metal foil, right? From this perspective is kind of similar to what the electronic industry does, you know, in some, in some ways, how does it work?


Simon Engelke, PhD  22:55

This also different ways, why didn't you say like, there's the one way, like how you would do it in your research in the glove box, and by hand, it will put everything together in a coin cell, more like what you know, from your watch. Then there's like the big throughput, you know, manufacturer on the other end, which chugs out batteries, as you know, in seconds, right. So, firstly, as you mentioned, you have your active materials on both sides for the anode and the cathode. And you mix you know, different material together, I'd say, if you're active material like you LFP for example, we spoke about, you put some conductive additive to it to make it a bit more conductive, electrically conductive, then you have some binder in there, right, which kind of makes the materials stick together made like a polymer. And then you have some solvent and mix it all up. We do those on both sides. Again, its known science, what to use there, love additives, no secret sauce in this in each production. You take this and then you spread it out a bit like you know, butter knife or whatever like this different coating techniques. But essentially, as we said, you could on a metal foil the current collector. These are big, big machines vital coating a very high speed. So, you coat this and then you have a big oven afterwards. Right, you need to dry it. You dry off your solvent, you dry the electrode, you get it to dry. And that also the length of the oven also is determined by the speed you want to run and then you get your coating out of it. And then you roll it up. And then you have your current collectors, both sides, right. Then you need to separate as you say like you need like it's also another electrical insulating but like ionic conducting, and you, it's like a little foil, like polymer foil or it's like a, and you put in between then have like this nice sandwich, right. But long story short, essentially you make the shape you want. You kind of build your enclosure, you put into enclosure either in this round jelly roll more shape or you do it like in a prismatic rectangular shape. And then this all happens in the dry room, right? So, this happens all the dry atmosphere. So, because it can't be moist. So, you want to avoid all the moisture in the air. And then you have to fill in your electrolyte right there’s a filling step. Then you have a first step, which is the formation step. Then you have some gas development, because you're going to have gases developing. But the fascinating thing is all what all what I'm describing right now sounds like a lot of steps. And it is, it's quite a few steps. But if you want to the high throughput, this is all automated and robotics, and it just runs at crazy speeds, it always has to run perfectly right, because you have one problem, everything's standstill. So, it's a really fascinating thing to automate and do at high scale, and then to monitor keep the quality up. Because of course, you don't want to have one wrong cell because that will be bad. For it only one way happens.


Paolo  25:34

I wanted to touch on one element that we haven't discussed much about yet, which is safety. Right. Obviously, we are speaking about small chemical plant there with very reactive chemicals in them. And you have you know, tens of kilos of, of reactive materials in your in your car and it catches fire is not it's not a good experience. What is currently looked at and what are the elements of the levers that, the industry is pulling to improve safety here?


Simon Engelke, PhD  26:05

Again, there's a lot of different approaches you can take to do that, right. So one is, you know, you can, for example, change your chemistry, right? So, you can, for example, yeah, like, you know, have different voltage windows essentially operating in your anode, what used, for example, can make it more safe. And there's different approaches there. Then also, you know, you can maybe, chemistry cathode, sodium ion, there's different things you can optimize on the safety, which you use. Then you can also separator. For example, you can do some coding ceramic coatings, solid state was seen as a way to really be extra safe. It also can have issues with cracking. But, so again, having some specific coatings in there in the battery is one approach. Also, governments have requirements on, essentially and EV has to notify you before something bad happens. So, there's a few minutes, the cause only has to alert you before something bad can happen. So, there's a lot of sensors and understanding and machine learning and predicting going on. So even if there is something wrong, for whatever reason, there's some variability in life, right? That's, that's an issue. You can't 100% avoid anything in life, but at least then you want to do it the most least harmful or the most safe way that if something would ever happens, at least you warn the user. Or you might have noticed old days, my two laptops, which will blow up and things, this crazy images and


Paolo  27:28

This releases gas. What is it? Is the oxygen coming out from the outside?


Simon Engelke, PhD  27:32

Mostly hydrogen. And so yeah, so that's also, we actually just had a lecture on the battery MBA last week on analysis, gas analysis, of these gases, which come out and generated each process. And in other words, also, of course, very important usage behavior, right, and how you can use it. You as a consumer start to see there's a lot of optimization in the back end happening. And that all is based on us understanding better, what the battery can handle and what can it do.  And there's a lot of research, of course, going on there as well.


Paolo  28:01

This is really interesting, because if the combined role of technology and understanding of what's going on, actually and the role of policy, right? So to ensure that there's a risk mitigation that put in place. And it's a symptom of actually quite a mature industry. Do you think that, you know, with all the considerations that there are around or there have been so far around the battery technology, you know, with trying to make the economics work better, you know, the environmental considerations, moving away from materials that are sourced from troubled places in the world, like cobalt, for instance, right, or the environmental concerns around mining and recycling and all the rest? Do you think that the batteries of the future in 20, 30 years’ time will be based on similar technologies that we have today? Or is there any potential disruptive innovation around the corner on something maybe even unexpected?


Simon Engelke, PhD  29:00

It's always hard to predict the future, right? And that's, I think, I mean, there's a lot also, there's other technologies we didn't talk about today, like lithium air and others. And you know, there's interesting approaches, I think. They feel quite far out, but if even ever, right. So I think also not everything in the lab or become commercial, or like maybe in a niche, right, like in a very specific niche, but not in a wide adoption. Which is we care about also, like decarbonization standpoint, the need for scale. So, I think, so I think for me, I'm right now more concerned about how we scale up what we already have such as see the urgency there. I think there will be a demand for this as well, like looking at lithium ion for example. Even if there's not a lot of sodium ion for example, right. Let's say sodium ion takes a big market share in the future. Who knows? There will still be use case lithium ion because there will still be a premium segment. But it might be that the more consumer like the larger scale, who knows what it might be, maybe solids state is a big topic. And it's a bit hard to predict at this point, really where the direction is going could be one way or the other. I still think these kinds of things will have their own applications. But yeah, it's also tricky for people to invest right long term to exactly know what's going to happen. And I think you just have to keep monitoring the market. For me, it's just like, if we look at the global scale again, the question is will there be some will there be some leapfrogging going on maybe take from telecommunication, right, where you go, maybe mobile straight, you avoid a landline? Right? So that's maybe one of the examples. Is there something like this in the battery? Do people, you know, is there countries are going to avoid even e-mobility with lithium, but go for sodium or something like this, right. So, this is interesting to be seen. And it's I think, definitely, I think also LFP and others, they've humbled me, and I think us, as far as like to I think, to be honest, because it feels so slow, and then suddenly moves fast. And I think there's this famous saying, like people what is over, you know, estimates could have been 10 years, but like, other than, like, an old estimate was happening in a year, and unless they know what's gonna happen 10 years or five years. So things, I think if all the different components come together, and they can also be a geographical, like topics as well, different regions, maybe suddenly, a region has a different approach on energy security, right. Or that's also a different topic, right in the US and the Inflation Reduction Act the discussions more about energy security, maybe then in Europe more about sustainability, right? And there's different angles, and maybe then if, you know, different things change, and different importance get reprioritized. But the longer, I think the short answer is, I will keep an open mind to what's coming. But the same time, it shouldn't stop us to scale up what we have. Because even today we already know the demand and the demand will be there for now. And if it improves in the future, I think nobody is going to complain.


Paolo  31:51

There are so many other things we should or could discuss about, you know, we can't keep going on forever. It feels like we need another interview. Maybe we'll do another but some point. But I have to go to my usual, final question. That is always the last question of the interviews for this podcast. And so, the question is, you know, based on your experience, what you have achieved so far, what will be a piece of advice that you would give to somebody who's just starting in a scientific or technical career?


Simon Engelke, PhD  32:22

I think for me, it's like, if you have any interest to see, I think it's always good to have some interest how whatever you do will impact the real world, or what's the real-world motivation. I know, there's also blue-sky research that is also really fascinating. And I know people are very excited about that. But for me, I think I always was really fascinated, like, look out there, right? Like, how will this impact the real world or the real-world applications? And I think also just want to encourage more scientists to if, because I know a lot of people start science and they realize maybe professorship or this direction is not exactly for them, they will look into different areas. I think that's just scientists are needed in so many different places, right, even today, we just touched a couple of them. We need them in research, but we also need them, you know, in industry. And I think leadership, you know, scientifically is also great. I think also in policymaking, having this background. So, I think for me, it's just like, don't feel like you only have one option in what you do when you start your scientific career. Keep an open mind. I think it just for me has been super fascinating to see all these different profiles of how people venture through their life. And just encourage you have, you know, go out there and maybe also try different things. And maybe still what's your scientific mind and what's your experience? But I'd be curious, and stay curious.


Paolo  33:33

That was Dr. Simon Engelke, Founder and Chair of Battery Associates in Munich, Germany. If you enjoy this conversation, you're sure to enjoy Dr. Engelke's book, video, podcasts and other content recommendations. Look in the Episode Notes for a URL where you can access these recommendations and register for a free Bringing Chemistry to Life t-shirt. And consider sharing the episode with a curious friend or colleague, so they don't miss any of the fun that we have in store for season five. This episode was produced by Sarah Briganti, Matt Ferris, and Matthew Stock.