In 2016 The Economist declared “The lithium-ion battery is the technology of our time.” Back then this assertion may have sounded like a reach, but fast-forward six years or so and it is clear we are experiencing a battery-powered renaissance. Batteries have revolutionized personal communications and mobile electronics, they are disrupting the transportation sector, and they continue to transform the way power is delivered over the electric grid. These trends will only gain steam, as this year’s Inflation Reduction Act invests heavily in a US-based battery supply chain and consumer adoption of electric vehicles accelerates.
At the same time, most of us have experienced, or at least read about, how batteries can be unpredictable, unreliable, and even unsafe. Whether it’s a cell phone that suddenly needs to be recharged by lunch every day, or headline-grabbing multibillion-dollar recalls impacting global companies like Boeing, Samsung, Hyundai, and GM. Batteries have the potential to create enormous value (witness Apple, which derives 90% of its revenue from battery-powered products and the services delivered over them), or inflict tremendous damage to brand and balance sheet. For companies today, it is increasingly vital to develop a core competency around batteries to ensure you stay on the right side of that equation of value creation vs. destruction.
These high stakes encountered by today’s battery-powered products and services derive from the inherent complexity of the underlying technology. Batteries are extremely complicated, teeming with countless, constantly evolving chemical and physical reactions. They expand and contract ever so slightly as trillions of ions shuttle back and forth with each charge-discharge cycle — almost as if they are breathing. In many ways batteries are more like living organisms than they are like the inert semiconductor or mechanical devices that comprise most of our modern environment. Ultimately this complexity means there is no simple measurement, model, or equation that will predict how long a battery will last — or when it will fail — in a real-world application. It turns out the only way to truly understand batteries is to observe their behavior empirically and in large numbers, from the R&D lab to the manufacturing line to systems in the field, and analyze the data to identify trends and develop insights.
When we founded Voltaiq back in 2012, we deeply understood this complexity through our day-to-day work developing the next generation of energy storage and electrification technologies. We also had the unique insight that batteries were a problem that lent themselves especially well to big-data analysis and machine learning techniques. Indeed we were convinced, way back then, that world-class data analytics and data infrastructure would be key to unlocking the full potential of batteries, making them affordable, reliable, performant, and safe. We envisioned a cloud-based diagnostics and predictive analytics platform to serve the full battery ecosystem and product lifecycle, and set about assembling the team of expert battery scientists and engineers, data systems architects, and software engineers that would realize that vision.
Today, Voltaiq is the leader in a space now called Enterprise Battery Intelligence (EBI). We are proud to count world-class technology innovators like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Mercedes-Benz among our customers. Our software-as-a-service EBI platform helps customers get products to market faster, minimize supply chain risks, and optimize battery performance, reliability, and safety. With battery expertise built directly into our software, it also helps our customer battery teams maximize productivity in an extremely tight market for battery talent. The Voltaiq EBI platform is in use today at companies spanning consumer electronics, transportation, and the battery materials and manufacturing sector. However the roster of “battery-powered businesses” continues to grow, and Voltaiq continues to grow apace.
To understand how it works, imagine every battery producing a “heartbeat” signal as it charges and discharges repeatedly. Voltaiq software is like an algorithmic cardiologist, reading the “EKG” of each battery to identify subtle indicators of health, or conversely degradation and failure. Suffice it to say, performing this analysis manually would be prohibitively time, labor, and cost-intensive. Perhaps even more crucially, even the best engineers would occasionally miss something that could ultimately lead to a recall (literally).
The next frontier for the industry, and for Voltaiq, is to modernize battery manufacturing. Even the best battery manufacturers in the world, companies like Panasonic and LG, take around five years to ramp up a new factory to profitable levels of production quality and throughput. Their challenges again derive from the inherent complexities of battery production, the painfully slow feedback loops at the end of production to determine if a batch of batteries is good or bad (it takes weeks, or even months), and the lack of advanced metrology and analytics tools needed to accelerate this process.
We’ve seen this play before, a couple decades ago in the semiconductor industry. As that sector matured and world-class optimization techniques were brought to bear, yields went up, costs came down, and microchips went from being expensive and rare to cheap and ubiquitous. Given the importance of batteries in the modern economy, it is inevitable that our industry will follow a similar trajectory. Indeed this evolution also produced a multibillion-dollar software industry serving the semiconductor ecosystem. With hundreds of new battery gigafactories coming online this decade, the scale of opportunity for EBI in battery manufacturing is enormous. Voltaiq is already engaging with both established incumbents and scrappy startups in battery manufacturing, and sees this sector driving our growth for the next decade.
The full team at Voltaiq is dedicated to our mission of accelerating the transition toward a battery-powered world, and as we enter 2023 we truly couldn’t be more excited about where things are headed.