Exposure to heat causes your phone and other electronics to lose battery life – and, in rare cases, catch fire – but a San Antonio startup has developed a solution that it will present to NASA's top technologists later this month.
Through the iTech contest, NASA is seeking to identify technology, software, and biomedical innovations to overcome obstacles to future exploration of the Moon and Mars.
New Dominion has created inorganic electrolytes for use in lithium-ion batteries. The product all but eliminates the fire risk of lithium batteries, and a final iteration will aim to remove all flammable material from the batteries, said Jay Fraser, New Dominion's president.
Fraser has been seeking funding sources to take the product to market. Although no prize money is awarded for winning the NASA competition – three of the 10 finalists will be tapped for the top prize on Oct. 26 – it has served as a springboard to national grant opportunities in the past, according to NASA. The winners also will receive mentorship from the NASA judges.
Fraser said he believes the battery additive has the potential to become the industry standard.
"I am sitting on a tinderbox knowing what I have," Fraser said. "We have something that's real. We are missing the key piece: money."
Fraser's co-founder and chief scientist, Mason Harrup, developed the heat-resistant lithium-ion batteries at the Idaho National Laboratory. With the backing of government funds, Harrup replaced a portion of the organic material inside of lithium batteries with inorganic material that helped stabilize their chemistry and lessen the impact of heat-related power loss, Fraser said.
"It's a chemical problem at heart, and they've developed a chemical solution," said Chris Cook, a San Antonio cybersecurity entrepreneur who has been advising Fraser.
Some high-profile examples of lithium batteries' limitations have emerged in the past few years: the two-wheel, self-balancing hoverboard was one of the most popular toys of 2015 but quickly fell out of favor when reports of explosive devices surfaced. In 2016, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was recalled after battery and manufacturing defects were discovered. Other notable incidents involved Sony's laptop batteries and batteries on Boeing airliners.
New Dominion and the other iTech entrants will deliver presentations to chief technologists from various NASA centers as well as other federal agencies and industry leaders.
“Our goal is to help entrepreneurs expand their technology pitches beyond the original scope to include off-Earth applications,” said Kira Blackwell, a NASA iTech program executive, in a press release.
The finalists run the gamut from artificial intelligence and big data to robots and water purification. Half of them hail from Texas, including three based in Houston and one in Cedar Park.
The competition will be livestreamed on NASA's website.