In our PhD Profiles series, we speak to emerging changemaker Karolina Biernacka whose PhD in electromaterials science at the Institute for Frontier Materials has led her on an unexpected journey towards the world of business.
Karolina Biernacka joined Deakin University as part of an internship during the final semester of her masters degree.
‘Deakin hosted me for six months and was one of the partners of the MESC – Materials for Energy Storage and Conversion European – Masters course, which I graduated from,’ Karolina says.
‘During that time, I did work for my masters thesis and enjoyed the supportive environment and excellent science that is done at Deakin.
‘After that experience I decided to continue my education here by undertaking PhD degree.’
In her time with IFM, which included an internship at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) Deakin node, Karolina was part of a team of early career researchers who developed the idea behind the multi-award winning ElevenStore project.
The ElevenStore project produced an innovative way to use sodium batteries to power scooters in Indonesia for cleaner and cheaper transport.
‘I never thought that we could achieve so much in terms of ElevenStore,’ Karolina says.
ElevenStore was founded by Karolina and two other IFM researchers in 2020 as part of their entry for the ClimateLaunchpad – a green business ideas competition.
The project was successful in State and National finals and led to the team being selected to represent Australia in the ClimateLaunchpad South-East Asian Regional Final which they won.
‘As a result, we won a place in the Global Grand Final of the Climate-KIC Accelerator Program that is focused on climate change mitigation through cleantech commercialisation,’ Karolina says.
‘It showed the potential of this technology and the need for new, sustainable storage technology.
‘Based on our achievements, I was also named a finalist in the 2020 Australian Women’s Weekly Women of the Future Awards.’
Now, Karolina is the Business Development manager at Sodium-ion Batteries Pty Ltd.
‘After a lot of work, I realised that ElevenStore, although is a great concept required more research and development to commercialise our technology,’ she says.
‘I decided to look for alternative ways of immediately bringing the compelling idea of novel, safe and environmentally friendly sodium-ion battery technology to the ASEAN market.
‘I knew I wanted to be involved in an industry that I was passionate about and that was doing good for the environment.’
Karolina says she feels extremely lucky to be part of Sodium-ion Batteries Pty Ltd, which will bring the first sodium-ion batteries to the ASEAN region.
‘Sodium-ion batteries Pty Ltd is an Australian company with the exclusive licence to commercialise the Faradion sodium-ion (Na-ion) battery technology in SE Asia and Oceania,’ she says.
‘Faradion was founded in 2011 to develop sodium-ion technology and now has an extensive IP portfolio of 29 patents, which I was always very impressed with.
‘Although the sodium-ion technology we will deliver to the ASEAN region is not based on ElevenStore’s technology, I feel fulfilled knowing that I achieved my goal and contributed to the sodium-ion battery commercialisation story.’
What was your PhD research project about?
I worked on novel solid state electrolyte materials for sodium-ion batteries (Na-ion batteries). These materials are safer and more environmentally friendly that the one we are currently using in batteries.
Unique selling points of Na-ion technology versus Li-ion (the most commonly used nowadays) are: sustainability (zero cobalt, lithium and copper, uses abundant and safe sodium material); safety; cheaper materials; and production can be done on existing Li-ion manufacturing lines.
My PhD contributes to development of Na-ion battery technology which ultimately will have a positive impact on the environment as well as on millions of people lives. Target application of Na-ion technology include residential (renewable energy) and light vehicles. By transport electrification we can not only reduce the pollution but also noise from road traffic.
How has IFM supported you to achieve your goals?
It has given me access to world-leading battery scientists, a connection to industry and collaborators, and financial support via a scholarship.
What are your future career ambitions? And how has your PhD helped you realise these?
I’d like to continue working on Na-ion technology development. I truly believe in potential of this technology and I’d like to contribute to Na-ion batteries commercialisation by looking into scalability avenues for Sodium-Ion battery technology into the ASEAN market.
My supervisor’s role was instrumental during my PhD. Professor Maria Forsyth introduced me to relevant people, whom now I am doing part-time internship as Business Development Manager. Findings from this internship will be summarised in a business plan I included as a chapter in my PhD thesis. My supervisor, Prof. Forsyth, as well as HDR team were supportive of this.
I also hope to undertake Graduate Certificate (or Diploma) of Business at Deakin. With Deakin’s strong reputation in business studies I believe this would place me well to develop business strategy and framework for ElevenStore and put us on a great trajectory to commercialising our Sodium-Ion batteries, which have significant sustainability indictors and have the potential to revolutionise travel in underdeveloped countries.