A New Age For Energy: Startups Offer High-Tech Ways To Save Power

By Jessica Perry

New Jersey has long been known as the center of the global pharmaceutical industry, with industry giants like Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Novartis making their homes here or maintaining significant presences. Now some startups hope to extend the state’s innovation to other areas, like high-tech energy.
One such innovator is Manveer Sidhu, the founder, materials scientist, and principal researcher at Sidhu Laboratories. His research-stage company is developing advanced energy storage and harvesting devices, or high-tech batteries.
“The three main applications for our solid-state, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are electric vehicles, portable electronics, and micro-grid/backup power devices,” said Sidhu. “For example, we’re working to achieve a range of 1,000 kilometers [about 620 miles] for a car,” up from less than 300 miles for top-ranked electric vehicles like Tesla. He’d like to see New Jersey “become the next Silicon Valley for energy.”
A high-tech hatchery
Sidhu Laboratories is currently located in Rutgers University’s Bordentown-based EcoComplex Clean Technology Innovation Center, an incubator. The facility supports about nine companies that are generally in the pre-commercialization stage, where they’re not generating much revenue.
In December 2018, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority announced that the Rutgers center was one of nine collaborative workspaces throughout the state approved to participate in the NJEDA’s NJ Ignite program, which provides up to nine months of rent support for startup businesses moving to collaborative workspaces.
“We often hear from the entrepreneurial community about the difficulty that startups have finding affordable lab and office space in New Jersey,” Gov. Phil Murphy announced at the launch. “Through NJ Ignite, we are striving to remove that obstacle, enabling Garden State innovators to preserve precious capital for product development, connecting with investors, and everything else it takes to successfully grow and prosper here.”
Although Sidhu’s New Jersey company is still in the pre-revenue stage, he’s currently partially funding it through a combination of initiatives. Sidhu gets some cash from a separate energy-technology company he previously established in Germany that generates about 6 million euros ($6.7 million) a year. He also established partnerships with larger businesses and other organizations that kick in materials and other in-kind contributions.

An ENERGY-MONITORING company oversees its GROWTH

Noveda Technologies, launched in 2008, develops web-based hardware and software enabling businesses, schools, government and other organizations to monitor their energy and water consumption in real time. “What you can measure, you can manage,” said Govi Rao, a Noveda official who is helping the company which has been in the Rutgers Clean Energy Innovation Center “a bit over a year” negotiate a possible sale.
Since inception, the firm has been through three rounds of financing, with investors that include individuals, angels, and VCs. “We also secured a low-interest loan through the BPU and the NJEDA’s Edison Clean Energy Manufacturing Fund,” Rao added. “We’re negotiating with two larger companies that would like to acquire us as a way to establish an East Coast presence.”
The Rutgers center “has been amazing,” he said. “It provides the laboratory environment we need, and the eco-complex gives us access to state innovation and energy resources, including seminars, capital, and talent.”
If the company does get acquired by a larger firm, Noveda would probably remain in New Jersey, he added. “We’ve received a lot of support through the NJEDA and Rutgers, and there’s plenty of talent here,” Rao noted. “Plus, there’s plenty of talent in New Jersey and the state is geographically great, near New York and Philadelphia, and easy access to Boston. There’s no need to move.”

“We have already partnered with the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems in Dresden, Germany, in fabricating large battery panels that can double, and potentially triple, the range of current electric vehicles,” said Sidhu. “The battery, under the name EMBATT, can be theoretically achieved using our proprietary technology.”
Startup assistance
The Rutgers center is important for clean technology and other startups because it provides “low-rate rent for office and lab space, and offers space to organize meetings and connect with other startups, while providing introductions to potential funders and others,” noted center director Serpil Guran. “Before they can commercialize, they must prove their technology. We’re helping to bring innovators out of their garages and basements to do so. One clean-tech company that moved into our center last year is already negotiating with a larger, established company about being acquired. We give these startups the opportunity to develop proof-of-concepts” and potentially move to the next level.
For Sidhu, “the Clean Energy Innovation Center has been instrumental for us when it comes to providing resources like meeting rooms, amenities, and food and drink. We have a number of partners involved when it comes to battery development both domestically and internationally and when they visit, the staff at the Clean Energy Innovation Center is always available to assist.”
Startups typically remain at the Rutgers incubator for two to six years, according to Guran. Sidhu plans to start commercializing some of his products in a year or so. He’s in discussions with “a number of automotive companies interested in our technology, and our plans are to partner with an industry leader to assist in commercialization of such batteries.”
Eventually he’ll move the company out of the Rutgers incubator and into commercially leased space, “where we plan to create about 50 high-paying tech jobs.” Sidhu would like to keep his company in New Jersey, but said it will “depend in part on what kind of state incentives we get. Other states have already extended invitations to us.”

CREDIT: Jessica Perry

This article provided by NewsEdge.