IFM scientists’ innovative battery idea reaches ClimateLaunchpad national final

Sythlett Cells, founded by IFM's Dr Ali Balkis and Dr Hiroyuki Ueda, is a start-up that hopes to sell slower-degrading, lightweight, non-flammable batteries for aviation.

Institute for Frontier Materials researchers have invented a new type of battery that has the potential to service an untapped multi-million-dollar battery market. And now as ClimateLaunchpad national finalists, their innovative idea is poised to get to market. 

Sythlett Cells, founded by Dr Ali Balkis and Dr Hiroyuki Ueda, who are based at IFM’s Battery Technology Research and Innovation Hub, is a start-up that hopes to sell slower-degrading, lightweight, non-flammable batteries for aviation 

Earlier this month they were named as national finalists in the ClimateLaunchpad competition, the world’s biggest cleantech and green business ideas competition. 

The competition gives early-stage cleantech and ‘green’ start-ups the opportunity to take part in bootcamps, workshops plus other support with industry leaders to help them translate their idea into a scalable business. 

‘We originally looked at batteries for e-bikes but there are already a lot of good e-bikes with great designs and there are a lot of companies already doing that,’ Dr Balkis said. 

‘When we investigated the aviation sectors, there was not a lot being done – practically only one start-up in Silicon Valley called Cuberg that are making batteries for drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and that is it. Our idea is a completely new idea.’ 

Dr Ali Balkis and Dr Hiroyuki Ueda.

As of 2020, the aircraft battery market opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region was priced at $AU18million, while the global aircraft battery market was priced at $AU785million 

The Sythlett Cells team identified the unique requirements of the aviation battery market to design their battery, which utilises pure lithium metal chemistry for a lighter, safer and more flexible battery than a traditional lithium-ion battery.  

‘We’re using these batteries for aviation because the chemistry is lithium metal, so the anode, utilises a lithium metal anode,’ Dr Balkis said. 

‘A lithium-ion battery uses a graphite anode, which is heavier. Lithium metal is the lightest metal in the universe, so having that as the anode is beneficial.  

‘For aviation, if you can have a battery that’s 50 per cent lighter than the traditional lithium-ion battery, longer lasting and with more performance – it will work really well for the aviation sector compared to lithium-ion.’  

The Sythlett Cell battery can also have an energy density greater than 450 Wh/kg, which is ideal for drones and UAVs, this is compared to a lithium-ion battery, which has an energy density of 250-300 Wh/kg. 

‘Our batteries are flexible as well,’ Dr Balkis said. ‘With graphite, you cannot do that. If you try to bend, it will just crack and break. 

‘This why our batteries suit the aviation sector because you can place it anywhere along the aircraft, so with the fuselage where there’s curves, you can bend the battery which allows vehicle designers to produce radical designs. 

‘The electrolytes can also perform at an elevated temperature. At elevated temperatures, Li-ion batteries utilising organic carbonated electrolytes can fail, resulting in a rupture and consequently explode and catch fire. But with our ionic liquid electrolyte, it can reach over 60 degrees without any problems, and I think that’s the game changer.’  

Dr Balkis said Sythlett Cells would work well for military applications – in particular UAVs. 

‘We have a prototype ready, and we want to see if we can upscale that,’ he said. 

‘Our batteries would apply well to UAVs, used for purposes such as reconnaissance, so not large UAVs that carry explosives, but UAVs that are required to fly longer than the traditional crude oil-based petrol or kerosine-based drones.’  

The ClimateLaunchpad final will now give Dr Balkis, Dr Ueda and the other start-up finalists the opportunity to connect with local investors, accelerators, and corporate partners. 

‘It would be good to liaise with companies, especially the military and even personal drone operators,’ Dr Balkis said.  

‘I know there are a lot of people using drones for surveying, particularly in agriculture to observe crops from a bird’s eye view.’ 

In 2020 and then again in 2021 two other groups of IFM researchers reached the global finals of Climate Launchpad. 

Dr Balkis is confident they too have a chance at reaching the global final.  

And he’s glad to have had the push from Electro and Energy Materials theme leader Professor Maria Forsyth to enter the competition 

‘It is good to just to get out there and see what other people are working on,’ he said.  

‘To pitch and get out there and talk to other people. The experience is why we applied.’  

The ClimateLaunchpad Australian National Final will take place on September 9.