Venkat Srinivasan of the Energy Technologies Area was a finalist for the East Bay Economic Development Alliance Innovation Awards. He was recognized in the “Catalyst” category for his efforts towards creating the CalCharge consortium, which connects East Bay companies with Lab scientists to develop battery technology.
The following is the San Francisco Business Times article about the CalCharge consortium.
Accelerating the energy storage industry
At the peak of the clean energy boom, Venkat Srinivasan, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, took a sabbatical to work at an East Bay startup battery company.
Srinivasan was struck by the critical need for new energy storage technology; i.e., better batteries.
Innovation: Pursuit of cutting-edge energy storage solutions.
Staff scientist/LBNL: Dr. Venkat Srinivasan
Employees: 80 LBNL researchers/ battery program
Revenue: $14 million/battery program at LBNL
Regional significance: Advancing the East Bay's emerging energy storage industry.
East Bay favorite: Strolling through Downtown Pleasanton.
Two things stood out: The industry was disjointed and entrepreneurs working on battery technology had no place to go to share ideas and network. At the same time, the Lab's expertise and state-of-the-art capabilities in battery research were difficult to access. The Lab's complex contractual mechanisms and lengthy processes discouraged startups from participating.
"As a result of my sabbatical, my definition of innovation changed," says Srinivasan. "In an academic setting the impact of a new idea isn't always obvious. If innovation is going to have an impact on making a better world, we needed to focus not only on the technology, but on commercialization — on how to put new ideas into practice."
When Srinivasan returned from his sabbatical, he initiated conversations about how the Berkeley Lab could change its internal processes to engage more companies and help the battery industry thrive.
Berkeley Lab partnered with CalCEF, the California Clean Energy Fund, to create the CalCharge consortium. The consortium serves as the "glue" for the Bay Area's energy-storage ecosystem. CalCharge streamlined the contractual mechanism for companies to gain access to the Lab's world-class facilities.
Eight of the 25 East Bay companies involved in energy storage have signed onto the consortium, including Blue Current, Eaton, Enovix, EnZinc, Farasis, Halotechnics, Primus Power and Saratoga Energy. With the exception of Eaton, all are start-ups.
"We're able to bring companies together to figure out how to solve challenges they have in common — manufacturing, bringing an idea to market, financing, recruiting talent — which frees them to compete in design, materials and technology," says Srinivasan.
CalCharge is also working with San José State University to create a graduate program in battery technology.
Recently, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory joined forces with Cal Charge to broaden the consortium's reach.