Octet founder and CEO Onas Bolton Onas Bolton, right, and Emily Dickens, head of product development.

$1M grant will help Ohio startup advance zinc batteries

Cleveland-based advanced battery material developer Octet Scientific received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation for research and development on grid-level, zinc-based energy storage technologies. 

Several types of zinc batteries exist, and this funding specifically supports developing zinc bromine technologies over the next two years. The funding will allow Octet to hire more employees and grow the pace and capacity of its research and development.

Founder and CEO Onas Bolton said the NSF support is welcome because fundraising for this type of early-stage, hard-tech startup is challenging. 

“We need patient investors,” Bolton said. “Battery research and business building is slow. It takes decades.”

Octet previously received an NSF grant and also has received support — including business development and marketing help — from Ohio’s BRITE Energy Innovators.

Changing battery chemistries

Octet Scientific develops novel materials to improve the performance of zinc batteries. The initial material is a chemical powder for the electrolyte portion of a battery. It helps zinc behave better inside the battery so the device runs more efficiently, holds more energy, and lasts longer. 

The zinc battery industry is nascent commercially and few projects are on the ground so far. The batteries hold promise for a variety of applications including hearing aids, replacing lead-acid batteries in traffic lights and at data centers, and of course, grid-level energy storage.

“The potential for zinc batteries is really immense because every battery market is huge right now, but grid storage especially,” Bolton said. “We’re going to need these kinds of energy storage to hold power when the sun’s not shining and the wind’s not blowing.”

He said lithium-ion batteries aren’t well-suited for this purpose because of factors including safety, sustainability, and material supply chain issues. Zinc batteries, on the other hand, don’t bear those concerns. They’re water-based and durable so they aren’t flammable like lithium-ion batteries, nor as environmentally troublesome. 

“Zinc is a very ubiquitous material. … We have zinc inside our bodies, you know, and it’s also produced around the world,” Bolton said. “It’s very, very safe… and is also highly recyclable.”

Regional appeal

Octet is Midwest-focused and wants to distinguish the region as a major player in developing next-generation energy technologies. Some of the companies it works with also are Midwest-focused and aim to expand domestic manufacturing.

“Cleveland has a lot of legacy chemical industry,” Bolton said. “We see this as an opportunity for our region to support the future energy industry by producing the chemicals that go into these batteries.”

What’s next

Octet recently filed for its third provisional patent. It is currently in the prototype testing and customer validation phase. So far, about 20 different global zinc battery manufacturers have tested its compounds. 

Later this year, they plan to start scaling some of the compounds that are performing the best in customer tests. Next year and into 2024, they plan to start producing the materials on a large scale and generating revenue.

Octet will manufacture the materials it develops, although Bolton says “someday we’ll probably exit — I would imagine we’ll be acquired by some larger chemical company.”

Besides building the individual business, the Octet Scientific team wants to advance the industry as a whole and increase public exposure to it.

“We’re hoping to help zinc get a firmer footing so it can really start to grow into these roles where it’s a better battery and it can provide a sustainable, recyclable, safer technology,” Bolton said.