Materials science and batteries: Emerging technologies in 2020

What emerging technologies in materials science and battery technology showed increased activity in 2020? We used Mergeflow’s tech discovery software to find out.

I will describe how we did our analysis first, and then describe what we found. Here is the overall structure of the article:

How we did our analysis

Our data

We analyzed scientific publications (academic journals, conference proceedings, preprints), publicly funded research projects, and venture capital investments. These data sets are often good early indicators for new technology developments. If you’d like to know more about these data, we have an article that describes the data sets available in Mergeflow.

What does ‘increased activity’ mean?

By ‘increased activity’, we mean ‘more publications’ for scientific publications, and ‘more investment’ in the case of R&D and venture capital funding. And here is how we determined whether a topic showed increased activity in 2020:

  1. How many papers (scientific publications) and how much funding (R&D projects and venture capital) went into a topic each year from 2016 to 2020?
  2. Was the 2020 number for a topic greater than 20% of the topic’s overall sum? (if numbers were evenly distributed across 2016 – 2020, you would expect to see 100% / 5 years = 20% per year)
  3. Did a topic see more papers or more funding in any other year than 2020?

If the answer to (2) was ‘yes’ and the answer to (3) was ‘no’, we classified a topic as ‘increased in 2020’.

We looked at emerging technologies from across materials science and battery technology

We looked at a subset of the emerging technologies analyzed by Mergeflow, from the ‘Materials Science’ and the ‘Energy’ category (battery technologies are in the “Energy” category in Mergeflow). But we intentionally left out very broad topics that comprise many subtopics. For example, we left out ‘bioplastics’, ‘nanomaterials’, ‘performance materials’, or ‘sustainable packaging’ because we considered these topics too broad.

The table below lists, in alphabetical order, all the topics we analyzed.

2D Materials
Aerogel
Amorphous Metal
Antimicrobial Materials
Biocatalysts
Carbon Nanotubes
Computational Materials Discovery
Conductive Polymers
Metal Foam
Metamaterials
Microalgae
Microfluidics
Nanosensors
Nanowire Battery
Perovskite
Photopolymers
Flow Batteries
Fullerene
Graphene
High-Temperature Superconductivity
Lithium Iron Phosphate Battery
Lithium–Air Battery
Lithium–Sulfur Battery
Magnesium Battery
Programmable Matter
Quantum Dots
Self-Healing Materials
Silicene
Smart Glass
Solid-State Battery
Super-Plastic Alloy
Superalloy
Emerging technologies in materials science and battery technology that we analyzed for this article.

This list is certainly neither complete nor exhaustive. But it is important to note that we analyzed the topics independently of each other, not relative to each other. This means that if we added more topics, it would not influence the results for the other topics.

The overall results

First, we obtained time series data for all topics from Mergeflow’s API. We used these time series to identify those technologies that showed increased activity in 2020.

Get the raw data

The results of our analyses below are available in a Google Sheet.

Here is what we found:

Science publications

In our science publications data, we identified four technologies as ‘increased in 2020’: Solid-State Batteries, Computational Materials Discovery, Programmable Matter, and Flow Batteries.

Below is a screenshot of our results (see above for the link to the sheet). In the sheet, the column ‘Development over Time’ means ‘number of publications per month’. ‘Share 2016 – 2020’ means ‘share of publications’ for each year. And ‘Sum 2016 – 2020’ means ‘total number of publications per topic, from 2016 – 2020’.

Mergeflow data on materials science and battery technology topics in science publications.
Mergeflow data on materials science and battery technology topics in science publications.

Funded research projects

For funded research projects, we considered projects that received government funding in the US, UK, and EU. Funding for these projects comes from SBIRNIH, and NSF in the US; Innovate UK; and EU CORDIS.

Across these funding activities, two topics showed increased activity in 2020: Solid-State Batteries and Nanosensors.

Below is a screenshot of our results. The numbers are based on funding amounts, not on numbers of publications. We converted all funding amounts to USD.

Funded research projects data from Mergeflow on materials science and battery technology topics. We considered funded projects from the UK, the US, and the EU.
Funded research projects data from Mergeflow on materials science and battery technology topics. We considered funded projects from the UK, the US, and the EU.

Venture capital investments

Finally, we looked at venture capital investments across our technologies of interest.

We found five topics with increased venture investments activity in 2020: Conductive Polymers, Quantum Dots, Microalgae, Graphene, and Microfluidics.

Notice that the results below only list a subset of the topics we considered. This is because we did not find any venture investments for these topics.

Mergeflow data on venture capital investments in our materials science and battery technology topics.
Mergeflow data on venture capital investments in our materials science and battery technology topics.

Next, let’s zoom in on some of the topics with increased activities in 2020.

Zooming in on selected topics

Solid-state batteries

You can see in the results above that solid-state batteries was a top-rising topic both in science publications and in funded research projects.

360° view on solid-state battery technology

In order to see a 360° view on solid-state battery venture investments, markets, patents, R&D and industry, please click here.

Science publications

We first used Mergeflow’s people name detection algorithm to discover who authored solid-state battery science publications in 2020. The screenshot from Mergeflow below shows the results in a tag cloud. Font size is bigger for researchers who authored more publications.

Names of researchers identified by Mergeflow in solid-state science publications 2020.
Names of researchers identified by Mergeflow in solid-state science publications 2020.

You can see that Jürgen Janek at the University of Giessen features most prominently here. He also has quite an extensive collaborator network. You can see this in the network graph below, which we generated using Mergeflow’s co-author social network extraction tool (the stronger the link between any two names, the more publications they co-authored):

Co-author social network, extracted by Mergeflow from solid-state battery science publications by Jürgen Janek in 2020. The stronger the link between any two names, the more publications they co-authored.
Co-author social network, extracted by Mergeflow from solid-state battery science publications by Jürgen Janek in 2020. The stronger the link between any two names, the more publications they co-authored.

Related: How to get better search results for tech discovery


Funded research projects

In 2020, the bulk of publicly funded research projects on solid-state battery technology was funded under the EU CORDIS program. The following are the biggest such projects in terms of received funding:

ASTRABAT
  • Funding: ca. $8,78Mio.
  • Context from project website: “The EU-funded ASTRABAT project intends to find optimal solid-state cell materials, components and architecture that can be mass-produced to meet electric vehicle market demands.”
SOLiDIFY
  • Funding: ca. $8,79Mio.
  • Context from project website: “The EU-funded SOLiDIFY project is developing materials and manufacturing processes to bring the novel liquid-processed solid-state fabrication technology [of solid-state lithium-ion batteries] to fruition.”
SUBLIME
  • Funding: ca. $8,58Mio.
  • Context from project website: “The SUBLIME project will help develop a complete value chain for new sulfide electrolyte-based solid-state battery cells with high capacity and high voltage stability.”

As you can see, all three of these projects aim to make the manufacturing of solid-state batteries economically viable.

Solid-state battery technologies: Publicly funded research projects in the EU, UK, and US

You can see the full set of publicly funded solid-state battery research projects by clicking here.

Venture capital investments

Of all the materials science and battery technology topics we looked at, solid-state battery technology showed the strongest increase in both science publications and funded research projects. Because of this strong increase, we decided to also include venture capital investments here, even though these took place in 2018 already.

Solid Power

Solid Power received $20Mio in venture funding in 2018. Investors include Hyundai CRADLE, Samsung Venture Investment, Sanoh Industrial, and Solvay Ventures. In addition to this venture capital funding, they also received research project funding via the US SBIR funding program, for example:

At the core of Solid Power’s technologies are newly developed metallic lithium anodes.

Ionic Materials

In 2018, Ionic Materials received $65Mio Series C funding. Investors include Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and others.

Ionic Materials has developed a new solid polymer electrolyte material. According to a patent awarded to Ionic Materials, which lists Ionic Materials founder Michael Zimmerman as inventor, the material can be used in lithium ion batteries.

Next, let’s look at two topics that showed increased activity in venture capital funding in 2020, quantum dots and microalgae.

Quantum dots venture fundings

Quantum dots are semiconductors with applications across fluorescent labels for medical diagnostics, photovoltaics, LEDs, information storage, and other areas. For more information, check out this article, for example.

UbiQD

In December 2020, UbiQD received $7Mio in venture funding from Scout Ventures, Keiretsu Forum, Sun Mountain Capital, Epic Ventures, Plug and Play Ventures, Arcview Collective Fund, Nanosys (see below), and others.

Similar to Solid Power above, UbiQD also received various research fundings from the SBIR program. Here are two recent examples:

UbiQD’s first commercial product is called UbiGro. UbiGro is a quantum-dots-based luminescent film that improves crop yield in greenhouses.

Nanosys

Nanosys is both partner of and investor at UbiQD. In August 2020, Nanosys received $20Mio in funding. Investors in this round were not disclosed, but according to their website, Nanosys investors include (or included at some point) Arch Venture Partners, 180° Capital Corp, Lux Capital, Samsung Venture Investment (who also invested in Solid Power, see above), Polaris Partners, Prospect Venture Partners, and Venrock.

Nanosys makes quantum dots for displays. A range of display manufacturers use Nanosys’ quantum dots, for example ASUS, Hisense, Vizio, or Samsung. A full list of displays that feature their quantum dots is available here.

Microalgae

Microalgae are unicellular organisms that could be used to make biofuels, medical products, or food ingredients, for example (for details, please see this paper, for instance).

Science publications and research funding revisited

While our analysis of science publications did not put microalgae in the “increased activity in 2020” category, they do show some increase over the past five years:

Science publications on microalgae have been rising slightly over the past five years.
Science publications on microalgae have been rising slightly over the past five years.

And there has been substantial public research funding, almost $150Mio over the past five years:

Public research funding of microalgae R&D from 2016 to 2020.
Public research funding of microalgae R&D from 2016 to 2020.

Checkerspot

In our venture capital time series, microalgae did qualify as am “increased activity in 2020” topic. So far, however, it seems that all this activity is focused on one company, Checkerspot. In August 2020, Checkerspot raised its biggest funding round to date, $36Mio. Investors include Viking Global Investors, Builders VC, Breakout Ventures, and Cavallo Ventures.

Checkerspot uses microalgae to make new materials. Their current focus is on high-performance polyurethanes and coatings.

Checkerspot’s materials are used in commercially available products. For example, Wonder Alpine makes skis that use new materials designed by Checkerspot. And Beyond Surface Technologies makes textiles that use Checkerspot-designed coatings. BST partners with brands such as Patagonia, Adidas, Levi’s, and others.


Featured image: Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash.

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