Could the future of battery innovation come from Cambridge?

Simon Engele is one of the 3 Trinity Bradfield Prize winners and has developed a method to improve the diffusion across battery electrodes, allowing faster charging and higher capacities for devices from smartphones, electric cars to grid storage. He was awarded £10,000 funding and three months of intensive business growth support with The Bradfield Centre.

Simon has a varied background, being a scientist in multiple areas, and bringing different disciplines together. He also has a wider perspective on how science works in a business sense and fits into the real marketplace. He prides himself on having experience at being able to talk to companies and investors so they are better able to understand the science and vice versa.

Simon has been interested in energy from a young age. During his undergraduate studies, in the Netherlands, he read about the fascinating work on a type of batteries, sodium-ion batteries, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Simon took initiative and simply called the lead researcher in his early morning and told her that he would like to help. “She listened to my story and said sure when do you want to come? I said I would probably have to finish at least two years of undergraduate study first and she started laughing as she didn’t expect that I would call her as an undergraduate. Nevertheless, I got recommendation letters from everyone I could think of and was lucky to join the lab in my third year of undergraduate.” Berkley was where the passion developed for batteries. The environment was truly inspirational, not only from a scientific point of view but also on an entrepreneurial and business one.

When asked about his thoughts on the existing battery market, Simon acknowledged the main complaint was the charges aren’t long enough and take too long to recharge, however, with his expertise, he explained why development is so complex. “Batteries get 5% better each year, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it is quite impressive.”  The thing to be cautious about in development is there are many so-called “wonder materials” that pop up, but once you look into them further many don’t stand up. However, this isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of exciting new innovations in the works, the good thing about the market is that if you produce something new and exciting you can make a big change. “Wherever there is a new topic with a lot of money, it creates new opportunities for people.”

Simon applied for the Trinity Bradfield Prize, partly driven by the fact that most grants offer large sums of money whereas you often only need just a small amount to push something to the next level. The whole application process was a good experience, and quite exciting, as there was no one to ask who had done it before. “Ravi and Mike (organisers) were trying to help as much as possible, and it was very supportive.”

Simon also aims to make the most of his time in The Bradfield Centre, getting involved with the onsite Media Lab, doing interviews, and networking with the members. He loves the idea of being in a location that allows you to talk to other businesses, which is a great way to get advice from those who have been through a similar process. We look forward to seeing Simon and the other winners around the building. “Being in an open ecosystem of other startups is very exciting. Trinity has a great history of creating successful companies, which was very attractive. I wish this opportunity will be available to more people.”

The Bradfield Centre

Housed in a stunning building at the heart of the Cambridge Science Park, The Bradfield Centre is designed to appeal to entrepreneurs, researchers and students, and is home to innovative high growth start-up and scale-up businesses.

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