Technology is leading the charge to find ways that energy storage can be made more affordable and sustainable. As the cost of wind and solar energy falls, so must the cost of storing that vital power in energy efficient batteries on the grid. This is where Inlyte Energy comes in. An LLC client, Inlyte is a tech-driven start-up that is dedicated to developing grid battery solutions based on two low cost and abundant materials, iron and salt.
LLC spoke to Inlyte Founder and CEO, Antonio Baclig to find out more.
Antonio, tell us a little bit about Inlyte, how it started and what your company’s purpose is.
Ever since I watched ‘The Inconvenient Truth’, I’ve been passionate about climate change and the climate emergency. It kind of shook me up, and as someone who was studying physics and chemistry at Harvard, I knew I had to take this seriously. I was also interested in research – I suppose I’m a bit of a geek – and I’m fascinated by how I could find new ways of using old ideas and research, so I suppose I knew that one day my passion and interests would combine.
After Harvard I worked for a venture-backed clean energy start-up. We were burying CO2 with no US government incentives and were probably doing it ten years too early, but it was exciting. While I was working, I learnt two important things; that I wanted to be an entrepreneur; and that instead of carbon storage, I wanted to work on enabling more solar and wind power as the fastest way to move towards a clean energy future.
But I needed to do more research, so I did a PhD at Stanford in Materials Science, and part of my research was looking at how batteries could store energy at very low costs. I also realised during this time that if more sustainable forms of energy production, such as wind and solar were to become more economically efficient, and cost competitive to coal and natural gas, we needed to find storage solutions that would compete with fossil fuel economics.
I knew that low cost batteries would be the solution but what I was yet to understand was how to develop a low cost battery that worked and could be scaled-up and was a viable alternative to lithium batteries.
Eventually I found the Zebra battery, a battery originally developed for electric cars in the 1980s by a British company called Beta Research that can use abundant materials such as iron, and I knew I had found a solution that could work. I then got involved with a US incubator called Activate where I worked with business mentors to help work up my idea and developed my business plan and Inlyte Energy was formed.
In late 2021 I flew to London to meet Beta Research. It was here that I became really inspired that working, researching and testing new solutions with their team of experts would be hugely beneficial, so I proposed my idea to them and to cut a long story short we are now a joint company. I now get to work with the world expert on Zebra batteries to develop, test and create a long-term solution that we think will change the way energy is stored on the grid.
Inlyte seems to be at the forefront of developing affordable grid batteries, what’s the impact that these can have on the environment?
We need to find ways to scale up solar and wind energy and help the move away from over-reliance on fossil fuels such as natural gas. If we want solar and wind to be more than 50% of the energy source on grids around the world, then we need to be able to store that energy cheaply and effectively. I believe that our solution could be a game changer.
We know from research already undertaken by companies like Beta Research that the chemistry around sodium and nickel batteries is robust. Nickel and salt batteries work and have done for years. But we also know that nickel is not an abundant material and to get to a situation where we are producing low-cost alternatives, we need to find materials that are easy to get to and cheap, hence iron. And this is what’s exciting. Iron allows for low-cost manufacturing and will let us scale up the tech.
Storage issues are not something that can be resolved quickly, but we are in the midst of a climate emergency, so we need to act fast. I think that iron gives us that opportunity, especially as the world might not have enough lithium, cobalt, and nickel for all our energy storage demands. We need new solutions and if effective, our iron and salt batteries will have a huge impact on the storage of renewable energy.
COP and climate change has recently been in the news a great deal, do you think that governments are starting to take the need for affordable and sustainable batteries seriously?
Both the US and UK governments are now providing incentives and grants for research into tech solutions to the climate crisis. One of those incentives is the UK government-run Faraday Battery Challenge that is offering £211m of funding for battery research. We hope that through Inlyte we can undertake research that will support other tech start-ups to help find affordable clean energy storage solutions.
What was the challenge that you came to London Law Collective with?
I was about to acquire another company, so I knew I needed legal advice to achieve that. It’s not something I had done before, and we had a deadline so I didn’t have much time. Luckily it was recommended that I speak to Lizzie at London Law Collective and together Lizzie and her team guided me through the deal from term sheet stage. But more than that, I needed someone who would negotiate on my behalf and support me along the way. I learnt very quickly that lots of things happen when going through a process like this and as we had only six weeks to complete the sale, I needed someone next to me who could guide me through this pretty intense process, tell me where I needed to compromise and organise things so that we would agree an amicable transaction. I got all of that, and more, from LLC.
As a start-up what have been the biggest challenges you have faced?
Where to start? A successful start-up needs a lot of momentum, and you’re starting from 0. It takes a lot of effort to build up that momentum, and you need to get all the forces, from the technology to the customers to the investors and partners, all pushing in the same direction. We feel that we have some good momentum now and are looking forward to growing that a lot in the coming years.
Another more personal challenge for me is how to balance being analytical and being decisive. By nature I think and re-think everything and listen closely to feedback and advice. But 10 people will tell you 10 different things, and a founder needs to take all that and make decisions and proceed confidently in a direction. I have had to develop both of these mindsets, and am grateful to my mentors, especially at Activate, for helping me to do so.
What advice would you give to other start-ups especially in the area of climate change and sustainability?
Stick with it. Tech matters. The challenge which start-ups need to overcome is that developing the tech is sometimes expensive and time-consuming and this can be hard for a start-up. So don’t lose confidence, what might seem as complicated to figure out at first will eventually work itself out.
What’s next for Inlyte?
We have recently closed our seed funding round from a fantastic group of investors and we are incredibly excited for the future. We are hiring right now in the US and UK. In the coming years we will be demonstrating our next-generation Zebra batteries using iron and salt, getting them installed in utility-scale pilot projects, and then building a large manufacturing plant to make them and get them out there to store solar and wind energy.
Would you recommend working with London Law Collective?
Absolutely! I really appreciated how the team jumped into action and got the work done in my short time frame. Their attention to detail and rigorous approach was second to none. Importantly for me they were also willing to explain the key issues, so I understood what was going on and that, as a start-up entrepreneur, was really helpful. A real pleasure to work with, from start to finish.
More information on Inlyte go to www.inlyteenergy.com