Building Better Batteries

Local tech company Advano is leading the region’s renewable revolution
Many Lithium Batteries Under Green Light

A New Orleans-based company’s revolutionary technology stands to make lasting impacts not only on renewable energy, but also in the ways consumers travel and engage with their everyday devices.

Meet Advano, a nanotechnology company that is providing scalable and sustainable solutions for lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries. Originally developed at Tulane and now advanced at the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, Advano’s technology replaces the graphite typically found in battery anodes with silicon. By result, Advano boasts up to 40 percent improvement in energy density in their li-ion batteries.

It might sound simple, but it’s anything but: improvements in li-ion batteries have tapered off across the industry as a result of the complex issues that arise when incorporating silicon into a battery.

“Silicon has 10 times more energy capacity than graphite,” says Alexander Girau, Advano Founder and CEO. “The challenge with working with silicon is the swelling caused during charging: silicon expands 400 percent more than graphite. Advano’s material is not only engineered to accommodate silicon swelling, but it is also economically efficient. Tech companies and automotive manufacturers are all too familiar with the limitations of lithium-ion batteries, and battery manufacturers have made very little advancement in their technology. As a result, we are barely able to get one day of battery life out of the smart devices that we use to power our daily lives.”

Not only does Advano’s technology promise longer battery life, but it does so with a focus on scalability. The silicon used in their li-ion batteries is upcycled from scraps left over from the manufacturing of semiconductors and solar panels, helping to maintain the affordability of their products. Girau says this further encourages “the mass adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and ultimately reducing carbon emissions worldwide.”

Traditionally, gas powered vehicles have been more affordable for the average consumer because they yield a higher range at lower cost. Without changing that relationship and making electric vehicles competitive by increasing their range between charges, it will be near impossible to reduce the automotive sector’s environmental footprint. However, Advano’s li-ion batteries could change that.

“The automotive industry would benefit greatly from Advano’s silicon anode material, A-SiFx™,” Girau says. “Higher energy density means EVs will not just be able to drive from New Orleans to Pensacola on one charge: they’ll be able to drive back to New Orleans on that same charge. Range anxiety will be a thing of the past. It also means a Ford Focus Electric will be less expensive than a gas-powered Ford Focus. That will change everything.”

As for everyday tech like smart phones, adopting Advano’s methods could both lengthen average battery life and enable further innovation in size and design, matching the needs and interests of both users and manufacturers.

“Proven li-Ion batteries work great for our smart devices, but these devices continue to be manufactured smaller and lighter,” Girau says. “An A-SiFx™-powered battery lets designers get smaller, while product managers can add more functionality and still get more lifetime in between charges. Cell phones, smart watches, drones, power tools—all of these products will get a much-needed power boost.”

Girau says that because scalability is a key priority for Advano, there is no greater location for the company than Greater New Orleans, where existing industries like oil and gas can both enable and benefit from revolutions in chemical manufacturing. Grady Fitzpatrick, Senior Vice President of Business Development at GNO, Inc., says Advano is exactly the kind of business the region needs, as it demonstrates the scope of talent emerging from local universities and the potential in the rapidly-growing technology sector.

“Tech commercialization at our universities is a key component in growing and diversifying our economy,” Fitzpatrick says. “Advano has attracted influential outside investment, which shines a positive spotlight on New Orleans and the talented founders we have in our community, and they are creating true cutting-edge technology that has applications across many sectors, such as energy, bio, and electronics. Advano is a proof point for other technology companies that you can incubate, fundraise and scale while remaining in Greater New Orleans.”