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This is Capitalism: Up Close, Inspired, Explained

Oct 30, 2018

Ray Hoffman interviews Dr. Christina Lampe-Önnerud. You might say there’s electricity in her blood. Long before her reputation was established as one of the world’s foremost experts on power storage, her father, Wolfgang Lampe, was world-renowned for building power stations and power transmission lines. After earning her doctorate in her native Sweden, Christina came to the U.S. and started her first company, Boston-Power, in 2006. In 2012, she and three of her former colleagues, one of whom is her husband, started Cadenza Innovation. It’s a Connecticut-based firm, which has developed a fireproof lithium-ion battery. It can be snapped together like LEGO® bricks to store virtually infinite amounts of power and sold cheaply. In 2018, this Cadenza Innovation story turned into a fast-moving one, which is why, after one long interview with Christina Lampe-Önnerud, Ray had to go back for a major update just six months later!


Key Takeaways:

[:21] Ray Hoffman introduces Dr. Christina Lampe-Önnerud.

[1:22] A lot has happened. Cadenza Innovations has gone from being a technical promise, through the demonstration at Fiat Chrysler earlier this year, into having initiated the program with New York State and the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the biggest public utility in the United States coming into New York City.

[1:48] Cadenza Innovation is constructing a public demonstration of what the Cadenza technology can do for the United States, with the specifics of the New York City grid. That’s going live in the summer. The stakeholders have all started their work.

[2:12] The Fiat Chrysler demonstration came from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which recognized the Cadenza opportunity as associated with the lowest cost, highest safety, and highest energy density per volume.

[2:26] Fiat Chrysler then signed up to be the champion. The demonstration happened in Q1 2018, which was on the heels of an over-three-year-long program with lots of third-party testing and validation, under the supervision of Fiat Chrysler, then being incorporated into the Fiat 500E. The test was run in Los Angeles.

[2:58] Cadenza Innovation demonstrated the Cadenza cell could go in as a retrofit. They demonstrated blocks that stack like LEGO® bricks. They demonstrated very aggressive goals set out by the U.S. DOE. The battery industry had said they could not do it but Cadenza met the goals, which included targets for range, safety, and cost.

[3:27] The cost is incredibly interesting because Cadenza is using supply chain assets, today.

[3:37] In June, Cadenza was given funding by NY State to do this clean energy storage demonstration project in White Plains, NY. Dr. Lampe-Önnerud tells how this happened. New York State, through NYSERDA, invited Cadenza to be part of an evaluation where they looked at multiple ways to meet energy efficiency.

[4:21] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud explains the old system of centralized power plants, distribution, and deployment. She outlines the future course of power distribution with multiple points of power generation paired with storage, almost like the internet where you trade energy where it’s most efficient.

[5:02] The battery and storage are critical for that arbitrage. Batteries significantly also replace climate change threats. New York looked at policy, incentives, and technology. Cadenza scored highly in the technology category so they were invited to give a demonstration.

[5:29] The demonstration will be hooked up to the NYPA’s headquarters in White Plains. It will be in a public space next to a bus stop. There is a potential for the demonstration to include generating data to show peak shifting in real-time and peak savings, including the reduction of CO2 and other climate gases.

[6:20] The state has designated a pad outside the building, roughly the size of a storage container with air conditioning and the hand-off between the battery and the grid. The battery takes up a small area. The container is partly to prevent battery theft.

[7:28] The demonstration will be for at least three months. Dr. Lampe-Önnerud is very hopeful that NYPA will pick up more units very quickly and deploy the technology.

[7:51] Cadenza has received funding in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. The team has only 30 people. They have received support from the battery industry ecosystem. Cadenza serves as a demonstration that new technology is not dangerous. It has moved the needle a little bit into acceptance, also thanks to low pricing.

[8:42] Cadenza is interested in playing in multiple states but as engineers, they work hardest on execution, to make sure every demonstration is successful. Cadenza technology is less dangerous than legacy systems.

[9:04] Another success point in the past six months is that Cadenza has engaged with the Department of Defense (DOD), who have done their best to blow up the technology. The standard industry test, thermal runaway, did not happen with the Cadenza cells. That garnered quite a bit of interest and a lot of curiosity. The results are remarkable.

[10:30] The jelly roll cell technology of encased cells prevents thermal cascades as a short will shut down the cell. The DOD warned them “We’re going to blow up your cell.” The engineers replied “Thank you, ... but we don’t think it will.” It didn’t blow up.

[11:37] In 2012, when Dr. Lampe-Önnerud founded Cadenza Innovation, she was very committed to the tripod of safety, cost, and performance. Nobody thought it was possible. She notes the technical achievement of her team and also points out the business innovation of putting together a very safe and collaborative system to succeed.

[12:28] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud elaborates on the recent news that China’s Shenzhen BAK Power Battery and Cadenza Innovation have announced that they will co-manufacture lithium-ion cells and modules based on Cadenza Innovation’s supercell architecture. BAK is already one of the biggest suppliers of jelly rolls in China.

[13:48] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud tells how lithium-ion jelly roll technology improves on the earlier lithium-ion technology. The jelly roll is easy to manufacture and you can have it manufactured locally, close to point of use, so your battery factory only needs to do final assembly. Dr. Lampe-Önnerud talks of BAK’s success from startup to a major manufacturer.

[15:14] Cadenza was also honored in Tianjin, China, by the World Economic Forum as a 2018 Technology Pioneer. Four of the team had already been acknowledged for the same award in 2010 for a different technology. The four, including Dr. Lampe-Önnerud, have been working together for 20 years.

[16:05] Boston-Power innovated in the portable power arena at a time when the industry had a lot of safety issues. Dr. Lampe-Önnerud had been at Arthur D. Little (ADL) and the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) had engaged ADL as an independent advisor on how to treat these 20 million recalled batteries.

[16:44] Boston-Power stepped up the game by cleaning up some of the safety idiosyncrasies and pioneered cleaning up some of the greenhouse gases. Boston-Power was a green company before it was cool to be green. They fueled the paradigm where the battery had to last the life of the laptop.

[17:06] Boston-Power also pioneered the paradigm of fast charging. Their battery was capable of the longest run-time and also charged to 80% capacity in 30 minutes, which was unheard of in 2005.

[17:22] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud knew with a little group — 10 people out of her garage — a little bit of confidence, and a lot of friends, they could become a player.

[17:36] The World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer Award is a recognition from global industry leaders, including Fortune 50 companies in the forum, and heads of states. Dr. Lampe-Önnerud had previously been recognized as a pioneer entrepreneur.

[18:08] As a tech pioneer, you get invited to share a story or vision, which can become part of the content for the World Economic Forum agenda. As a two-time winner, Dr. Lampe-Önnerud has also been invited and has accepted to be a co-chair for The Future of Energy Committee to help drive the discussion.

[18:29] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud also was in Nice recently to address the International Energy and Power Supply Conference (Batteries 2018) on The Role of Energy Storage in the New Economy Paradigm. Two macro-trends she covered are the rate of technological change and climate change.

[19:46] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud worked with the Club de Madrid and the United Nations from 2009 to 2011, and with Condoleezza Rice and the President of the European Council to try to facilitate a data-driven global agenda. They developed a model for watching temperatures and predicting problems. The model has been a good estimate.

[20:55] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud sees hesitation around global collaboration. You have to be rather stubborn that you want to keep the door open. It takes a lot of positive force.

[21:47] Since starting Boston-Power in 2004, Dr. Lampe-Önnerud has learned that it was not as hard as she imagined it would be to raise capital. She didn’t have time for a process, she just needed investors immediately. Over the years, she raised almost $360 million and the company had a chance to grow.

[22:37] With Cadenza Innovation, Dr. Lampe-Önnerud is more knowledgeable and she invented a new security that aligns investors and the management team for a ‘long play.’ She is determined to try to stay courageous for global markets. She is trying to stay very true to doing good and doing well, at the same time.

[22:59] With Dr. Lampe-Önnerud’s new investment security, there is no artificial driver for the investor to get out. The intent is not to flip the company in two years. If they sold it, it would be for a remarkable opportunity.

[23:13] The strategy is actually to deploy great technology into a vacuum that is huge. And with that, they will do a ton of good, and make a lot of money in it, as well.

[23:26] It is very difficult to make transformations within a year or two. Most policies call for four years or less of effort, which is still too short. Dr. Lampe-Önnerud says it is basic to commit to something that is over 10 years. 10 years is very fast for technology shifts.

[23:49] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud got investors to sign on from the beginning. She went only to ‘angels.’ She told them they may make 10X or 20X their investment, but it will take 10 years. She told investors liquidity may be available in Year Six, but not in Year One.

[24:32] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud could spend all her time in music because she loves it so much, but she loves equally this exciting game of trying to make a difference. She dedicates her music time to Silk’n Sounds, a Connecticut female a cappella chorus.

[25:47] Dr. Lampe-Önnerud approaches the group with her CEO mindset. She sees it as providing empowerment!


Mentioned in This Episode:

Dr. Christina Lampe-Önnerud

Cadenza Innovation, Inc.

Fiat Chrysler


Department of Energy (DOE)


Department of Defense (DOD)

Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC)

Arthur D. Little

Club de Madrid

United Nations

Silk'n Sounds

This Is Capitalism