A Battery that Powers the Future

March 1, 2021

As Sila Nano experiences record achievements, Georgia Tech’s commercialization ecosystem continues to grow

Gleb Yushin

Gleb Yushin, Materials Science & Engineering Professor and Co-Founder & CTO of Sila Nanotechnologies 

It’s hard to believe that before coming to Georgia Tech, Gleb Yushin had never worked with batteries. Nearly 15 years later, his materials research is enabling space travel, revolutionizing the automotive industry, and contributing to clean, sustainable energy systems.

“When I arrived at Tech, I thought that innovations in batteries were long overdue,” recalled Yushin, professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. “It may be hard to believe now, with so much excitement in electric vehicles and the recent Nobel Prize given to the lithium-ion battery inventors, but at that time, lithium-ion batteries were considered to be a ‘mature’ technology.”

Yushin’s passion for battery research led him to co-found Sila Nanotechnologies, Inc. in 2011, where he now serves as chief technology officer. Sila Nano just received a Series F funding round that boosted its valuation to over $3.3 billion. The latest investment will enable the company to evolve the electric vehicle batteries it has come to be known for and also begin introducing its high-energy battery technology into consumer devices, like fitness trackers and wireless earbuds.

For Yushin and his company, this is a watershed moment, as it looks to add 100 new positions to its existing 200 employee base and open a battery materials buildout factory in the U.S. by 2024.

But this also marks a significant moment for Georgia Tech. Sila Nano’s success can serve as inspiration to faculty, research scientists, and students looking to commercialize their own research.

Cylindrical 18650-type Li-ion battery that is used in both electronic devices and electric vehicles

Cylindrical 18650-type Li-ion battery that is used in both electronic devices and electric vehicles

“The more successful entrepreneurs we have at Tech, the more they can teach others to do it right,” Yushin said. “Furthermore, successful startups generate recognition and publicity for their universities, helping to attract ambitious and talented students from around the world.”

Companies like Sila Nano – and others that have been spun out of incubators like ATDC and CREATE-X – are playing a large role in building the commercialization ecosystem at Georgia Tech.

“The success of Sila Nano — not just in its latest valuation, but also the impact it’s having on the U.S. economy and clean energy initiatives — is very exciting for Tech,” said Raghupathy Sivakumar, interim chief commercialization officer, co-founder of CREATE-X, and engineering professor at Georgia Tech. “Bringing together commercialization and technology transfer activities with a goal of moving more intellectual property out into the marketplace greatly expands Georgia Tech’s impact on the world. We couldn’t be prouder of Gleb and the company he has built with his co-founders.”   

From Research to Commercialization

At Tech, research doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Engineers and scientists like Yushin actively look for ways to translate technology advancements into practical applications. Case in point: Sila Nano alone has licensed 14 different patents from the Georgia Tech Research Corporation.

“Most large companies have trouble identifying and commercializing revolutionary technologies that now commonly originate at universities or national labs rather than in industrial laboratories,” Yushin said. “If we want to have a strong, innovation-driven economy, commercializing university research is a must.”

The lab-to-market pipeline at Tech continues to grow, with a growing list of successful companies —  Brain Rain Solutions, Carbice, Zyrobotics and Sanguina, to name a few recent examples. Yushin said forming a proper ecosystem is the key to establishing the culture of thriving innovation at Tech and in Atlanta.

 

“The more notably successful startups that originate from Tech, the higher the chance that venture capital firms and aspiring entrepreneurs will be looking to us for breakthrough technology and research,” Yushin said. “Also, many students come to Tech with a goal of starting their own company because they see what we are doing.” 

So, what’s next for Sila Nano? Yushin plans to continue to improve and dramatically expand production of revolutionary materials for next-generation batteries that will power electric cars, trucks and buses and eventually hybrid-electric ships, planes and autonomous flying taxis. They will also become part of the renewable energy grid, he said.

As Yushin keeps advancing the storage power of batteries so, too, will Tech continue tapping the power of research and innovation to develop market-ready ideas that improve the human condition. The example of Sila Nano demonstrates the powerful potential. 

“It is incredibly exciting to contribute to building a clean, energy-sustainable future rather than waiting for it to happen,” Yushin said. “At Sila, we have showcased the major impact of materials science engineering on the future of transportation and the clean energy economy. As a Tech scientist and engineer, that makes me very proud.”

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