You know your house doesn't run on solar power if you've ever watched television after dark. Most renewable energy sources cannot provide on-demand power unless they're paired with a battery. Membrion started with the vision of enabling solar cells to power cities at night by making big batteries less expensive and more efficient.
Storing enough energy to power a city requires a very big battery. Flow batteries are consistently identified as the ideal choice for grid-scale energy storage but they remain expensive because of a single component: the ion exchange membrane. We realized there was a significant opportunity to lower the cost and improve the performance of flow batteries by designing a membrane that could survive extreme conditions.
The ah-hah moment hit the team when we started understanding that flow batteries aren't the only important technology with a membrane problem. In fact, many industries are held back by the high cost and poor durability of plastic membranes. We continue to believe that we've found the solution to clean water, cheaper renewable fuels and more efficient batteries hiding in the bottom of a beef jerky package.
Membrion's technology was developed at the University of Washington by Prof. Lilo Pozzo & Dr. Greg Newbloom. Lilo and Greg have invented many technologies together and were committed to thinking differently about membranes from the start. Dr. Newbloom recalls, "Everyone is working on new plastic membranes and it would have taken us a long time to catch up. Instead, we just started brainstorming what a membrane really needed to accomplish. It gave us the opportunity to think really differently." After more than a year of modestly successful prototypes, they started exploring membranes based on silica gel, commonly used as a desiccant in food packaging. As it turns out, it's not just good for keeping your jerky dry! The team now has multiple pending patents and has started prototyping for markets beyond flow batteries. Since 2016, the team has expanded from 2 to 9! Part of the team has spun-out of the UW and is working towards a commercial product anticipated in 2018.