Student startup SiNode wins national cleantech award

Flora Sun, Reporter

The student startup SiNode LLC won a national award earlier this month at the Cleantech Open 2012 Global Forum, the world’s largest cleantech accelerator.

SiNode has commercialized a silicon-based anode for lithium-ion batteries, which causes a significant increase in energy density and a reduced charging time.

The first team from Northwestern to attend the competition, SiNode won the top prize Nov. 9 in the energy efficiency category and secured a place to compete for the national $250,000 grand prize.

“SiNode anodes represent the future of lithium-ion batteries, capable of significant increase in energy capacity, faster charging and environmentally friendly manufacturing,” SiNode team member Thomas Yu said.

The McCormick graduate student added that wet chemistry and simple equipment are enough to replicate SiNode, making it easy to commercialize the technology on a large scale.

SiNode was formed Winter Quarter during the NUvention Energy course, in which students from several graduate schools across campus come together in interdisciplinary teams to develop a product or service and business plan for the sustainable cleantech industry.

SiNode is comprised of two sub-teams: a business development team of several Kellogg students and a research and engineering team of McCormick graduate students.

The team’s goal is to improve energy storage, one of the biggest challenges in today’s technological world. SiNode is designed to narrow the gap between portable energy capacity and power needs.

The team selected the consumer electronics market as the best fit for applying its technology.

“The performance, along with the cost of batteries, has become the single most limiting factor for electronic vehicles and consumer electronics,”
Yu said.

SiNode has participated in multiple national business competitions to raise capital for its projects. The win in this year’s Cleantech Open Global Forum garnered $20,000 in cash and services. The team has also won government grants and is seeking funding from other institutions, team member Guy Peterson said.

Peterson, a Kellogg student, said extra funding would allow the team to buy equipment for larger batch processing. Because battery validation is a slow process requiring weeks or months of cycling tests, this money would enable the team to run more tests simultaneously to maximize efficiency and shorten the time to market.

“There is considerable overlap in our responsibilities, but we each do the ‘heavy lifting’ in the areas that are most pertinent to our backgrounds,” said team member Joshua Lau, a McCormick graduate student.

Aside from winning this year’s Cleantech forum, SiNode was also a finalist in several other competitions, including the First Look West Clean Energy Business Competition hosted by the California Institute of Technology.

“The exposure from competitions is always nice because we meet contacts interested in investing or collaborative development,” Lau said.