“How are your balls?” — that’s my mom asking me how my business is going.
The balls, of course, aren’t your typical spherical objects. The nerdy term is “ellipsoid” and they’re specifically designed so we can squeeze as many battery cells into a container as possible.
Those mighty little balls, called String Cells, have more than what meets the eyes. They’re designed to overcome the limitations of today’s electric vehicles so commercial users no longer have to design their businesses around those restrictions — making electrification at scale an economically-feasible business case.
Let’s start from the beginning…
In 2009, I saw the potential of combining electrification, mobility, and data. I started to wonder why people keep saying electrification “wasn’t going to happen” in transportation.
Simply put, people can roll into a gas station, pump the gas in five minutes, and drive 300 miles. You can’t do that with electric cars.
Energy stored in traditional vehicles is in liquid form so all the infrastructure and business models are built to handle fuel as a liquid. Meanwhile, energy is stored in a monolithic “block” of battery in today’s electric vehicles and requires a completely different handling method that doesn’t fit into today’s consumer mindset nor operating procedures of commercial fleets.
What if… switching to an electric fleet doesn’t require companies to change their operational procedures or business models?
What if… we have a system that eliminates charging/idle time and range anxiety?
What if… we make batteries behave like a liquid so they can be handled like gasoline?
A liquid is just a bunch of tiny molecules that can organize themselves inside a container in the most compact and efficient way possible through “random packing.” What if we can make battery units behave the same way… with similar handling characteristics of liquid fuel, essentially behaving like a bunch of very big molecules?
To determine a shape that allows for the highest packing density, I talked to a friend who was an organic chemist and a professor at Yale University. Then, I turned to origami to explore random packing with flat surfaces (i.e., circuit boards) and the first battery prototypes looked like soccer balls (dodecahedrons, to be exact.) I also investigated a newly discovered carbon geometry (the Bucky Ball), and learned about the high lubricity factor of certain carbon compounds, which allows molecules to slide past each other with very low friction. It was obvious that the behavior of liquids was a material handling concept with legs.
Finally, I took the idea to Juha, a super-gifted mechanical engineer (now Tanktwo’s Lead Engineer.) It took him a few years (plus a ton of calculations) to conclude that the optimal packing density could be achieved by creating an ellipsoid with a specific semi-axis ratio (i.e., the ratio between width and length and height.)
He even invented a highly-sophisticated software program to simulate the behaviors of ellipsoids so we could determine the optimal shape for achieving the highest packing density. Using complex physics engines, we predicted how the shapes interact with each other, with friction, and with gravity in the real world as they’re being “poured” (i.e., through bulk-handling) into a container.
And we determined the final shape for our batteries, which we called the String Cells.
The smart space eggs, despite their alien-like appearance, often use the most common lithium-ion battery chemistry (just like your smartphone!) because it’s the most cost-effective technology for a wide range of applications. However, we can use any battery chemistry as required by the application.
Instead of reinventing the battery chemistry, we make the batteries smart. Each cell has a unique identifier baked into a silicon chip. The chip, essentially a mini-computer, has the ability to protect the integrity of the cell and the system — meaning that a cell won’t put itself on fire even if it receives a command to do so. Also, it will shut down automatically when at risk of overheating to prevent a fire, even without central command.
The chip also measures relevant parameters — voltage, current, temperature, and optionally acceleration, even air pressure, pH, and more. The information can then be used to analyze performance, optimize usage, and maximize battery life.
Meanwhile, cells in a tank can communicate with the “outside world” through optical signals, radio frequency, or direct electrical contact. As such, a centralized system can be used to monitor the behavior of every cell no matter where they are so the user can optimize the performance of each battery unit in realtime.
Last but not least, all the external contact points can switch between being a positive or negative terminal at any time. As such, an electric circuit can be completed when cells are in a random packing environment to approximate the behaviors of “molecules” in liquid fuel.
The ellipsoid form factor and the “smartness” allows for random packing, which makes bulk-handling possible. From there, we can create a system that permits operational freedom.
When the string cells can be handled as a liquid fuel, existing business models, operations, and infrastructure can be used to support electrified commercial fleets with minimal adjustments.
In addition, each cell acts independently. If one (low cost) cell fails, you’d simply swap it out. A non-functioning cell won’t affect the performance of the pack. This is very different from traditional battery packs, in which one bad cell could cause a significant loss in power output or render the entire battery pack useless (as in the case of Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.)
The limitations of electrification, such as high capital outlay, range anxiety, low resell value, questionable durability, unpredictable cost of ownership, etc. are therefore eliminated. Instead of having to design business processes around the limitations of the tool, organizations can have the tool adapt to their operations.
Since the string cells are infinitely customizable, usage and resource allocation can be optimized for individual business cases by changing the batteries’ behaviors to maximize profits.
The String Cell is one of the 7 patent families owned by Tanktwo, designed to position the company as the only global provider of a complex ecosystem bridging electrification, mobility, and data analytics. Here are some key area covered by the String Cell patent family:
The String Cell is a key component of Tanktwo’s complex ecosystem that ties together technological advances in data management, wireless communications, internet, optimization algorithms, and more.
Our patented technologies position our partners, investors, and customers in the right place and at the right time to benefit from the convergence of influences in electrification, mobility, and data analytics with minimal risks.