Challenge: Measuring the life of a lithium battery at triple the traditional speed
Solution: Creating a commercially available system from scratch
Dr. Chris Burns gets a charge out of answering seemingly unanswerable questions. As a PhD candidate at Dalhousie University, Chris was looking to determine how long lithium batteries would last. The question is not purely academic – lithium batteries are used in everything from electronic devices to electric cars.
“These batteries are so efficient, but when we started our research there was no easy way to predict their cycle life,” says Chris, president and CEO of Novonix Battery Testing Services Inc., in Halifax. “Using what we call high precision coulometry, we developed battery-testing systems refined enough to measure lithium battery efficiency in three to four weeks. Traditional cycle life testing would typically take many months.”
Chris and his colleagues were publishing their research and presenting findings at conferences. Soon they were being approached by companies interested in purchasing their equipment. So in 2013, the team spent a year developing the first generation version of their innovative battery-testing system. “We had to build everything from a blank slate,” says Chris. “We were really starting from nothing.”
ACOA’s help was critical during that development phase, he notes. “Having this money behind us let us know we could bring people on and support them. It’s peace of mind.”
Within a year, the first Novonix system was ready – and clients were lined up. “We delivered to our first customers in 2014. This included Fortune 500 companies and the second largest battery company in the world,” says Chris.
Today, the Nova Scotia company has 11 employees, an international reputation, and a second generation high-precision charger system already available for sale. This year the company will release its first low-cost system for a broader market. “Growth is built into the business model,” notes Chris. “We are still small fish, but we are poised to take a bigger market share.”
Thinking big is essential, he adds. “We learned if you’re building a company, treat that company like a big enterprise from day one. There is a delicate balance, but you need to see yourself as a real entity even if it’s only two guys working out of a garage.”
Partnerships, such as the one with the Government of Canada, play a key role in Novonix’s continued growth. With support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the government is helping Novonix refine its product and bring it to even more customers. A recent investment of $500,000 will assist the company in expanding through marketing efforts and product improvements.
Novonix Battery Testing Services is a prime example of how innovation and resourcefulness fuel Atlantic Canada’s economy, at home and beyond.
For more information on programs and services available to businesses in Atlantic Canada call 1-800-561-7862 or go to canada.ca/acoa.