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Battery Safety Startup’s Future—and Tech—is Solid

Image courtesy of sivVector / Alamy Stock Vector Li-ion batt diagram.jpg
Stock diagram of a lithium-ion battery. The SAFIRE additive turns the liquid electrolyte solid upon impact, preventing shorting and thermal runaway.
Safire Technology Group’s additive transforms liquid electrolyte into a solid state instantaneously upon kinetic impact, preventing shorting and thermal runaway.

Emerging in 2020 from an R&D effort by the US Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Safire Technology Group’s primary mission is to increase the safety of lithium-ion powered vehicles and equipment by preventing fire and explosion during crashes or other significant kinetic impacts.

Based in McLean, Virginia, Safire’s development began in 2013 upon securing R&D funding. The company’s proprietary additive, SAFIRE (SAFe Impact Resistant Electrolyte), transforms a liquid electrolyte into a solid state instantaneously upon kinetic impact, such as an EV or eBike crash. The additive provides a safe, easily integrated solution for EVs and other Li-ion-powered equipment, the company said, resulting in increased safety and stability, higher performance and projectile and ballistic protection. The additive works with any type of LI battery.

Impactful safety solution

In LI batteries, a thin piece of plastic separates the two electrodes. If the battery is damaged and the plastic layer fails, the electrodes can come into contact and cause the battery's liquid electrolyte to catch fire. In SAFIRE, the electrolyte solidifies under impact, blocking contact between electrodes.

Through this instantaneous liquid-to-solid phase transformation that occurs with impact, the chemical battery process is shut off, preventing shorting and eliminating thermal runaway. This mitigates the risks to people and critical hardware during a ballistic or kinetic event. Product designers for battery-required systems can minimize or eliminate costly, heavy shielding required for existing LI batteries. 

Between 2017 and 2020, the company was awarded five comprehensive patents for its SAFIRE technology.

From the lab to the industry

Following an exclusive licensing agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced in November, Safire is seeking prototyping and partnership opportunities with automotive OEMs, and manufacturers in the eVTOL, e-bike, and general battery manufacturing markets. The defense industry is also finding applications, the company added.

Safire is led by cofounders John Lee, CEO, and Mike Grubbs, COO. Lee, an Investor in the venture-backed technology industry, specializes in venture-backed government-anticipated technology companies with a focus on government go-to market strategy, mission/market-led product strategy, fundraising and government contracting strategy. In addition to leading Safire, he sits on the board of various venture-backed technology companies, working with founders to help navigate the unique challenges and risks of creating disruptive technologies for commercial and government (dual-tech) markets ­– strategically supporting them at all stages of growth.

Image courtesy of Safire Technology GroupSafire CEO Lee IMG_1793.JPG

Safire CEO John Lee and COO Mike Grubbs.

With over a decade of experience negotiating and awarding major systems contracts with the defense industry, Lee has managed more than $3 billion in government funds for various U.S. Department of Defense programs. As a contracting officer at DoD, he managed over $200 million  of the Navy's Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) budget and funded non-dilutive grants to disruptive dual-tech startups.

Grubbs has more than 20 years of experience founding and advising more than 30 commercial and nonprofit startups. An expert in discovering customer value and aligning products and strategy to maximize full value, Grubbs is sought globally as an entrepreneurial coach in diverse industries such as consumer products, small business, software and technology, e-commerce, fintech, blockchain, logistics and professional services. He served on the staff of the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, on the research staff of the National Academies, and as a government contracting attorney representing multi-billion dollar defense contractors.

Addressing Safire’s exclusive agreement with ORNL, Lee explained that “SAFIRE will transform the car industry, particularly as we pivot towards electric vehicles. (Our) additive is easy to add to any existing battery-making process and provides users with a safer alternative that is lighter and more effective than conventional battery protection, resulting in higher performance and lower total cost of ownership.”

Added Mike Paulus, director of technology transfer, ORNL, “Seeing a technology grow from a seed project through invention, patenting, development and licensing is fulfilling and an honor for our team. We look forward to working with Safire through the prototype process and into manufacturing.”

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