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Ex-First Solar Exec Takes Helm at Battery Start-Up

Dave Eaglesham was instrumental in the scale-up of First Solar, and he has now been tapped to lead Pellion Technologies, a startup with visions of supplanting the lithium-ion battery market with its magnesium-based technology.

For new CEO Eaglesham, the technology is far different that what he saw as Chief Technology Officer for First Solar. But the challenge will be roughly the same as he tries to forge a path for a new technology in a field dominated by established players.

During his time as CTO at First Solar from 2006 until May, he saw the company grow from a small operation with about $50 million in revenue to one generating close to $4 billion. Along the way, the cadmium telluride technology carved out a significant chunk of the market dominated by polysilicon panels.

Now, he’s leading a company working to reinvent the batteries that could eventually power a world dominated by electric vehicles. Pellion was borne out of the labs of MIT in Cambridge, Mass., and it was launched with support from the Department of Energy. He’s replacing Gerbrand Ceder, who has led the company since its start. Cedar will return to a teaching position at MIT but will maintain a technology role with the company.

At the company’s core is a modeling program that could cut into a decades-long head start by the lithium-ion battery industry. Pellion is using the modeling to screen materials and to come up with a list of candidates most compatible with magnesium. According to Eaglesham, magnesium-ion batteries are prized for their energy density, which the company says could power an EV three times farther than current lithium-ion technology.

Magnesium mining, however, is an industry currently dominated by China. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, China mined more than 500,000 metric tons of magnesium in 2009. The next largest mined source was in the Russian Federation, where 37,000 metric tons was extracted. But magnesium is the fourth most common element on earth, and it is prevalent in most regions.

The source would only become a factor once the company gets to scale, which remains a long-term goal. “It’s critical to spend time on the underlying technology before we scale,” said Eaglesham. “A lot of companies have made the mistake of trying to ramp up too soon.”

The company first needs to develop a fully integrated manufacturing flow, and it needs to precisely determine which markets it intends to target, and in which order. While the company sees EVs as a long-term market, it may first tap into consumer devices like phones and laptops. Eaglesham said the company is not currently targeting grid storage.

Lead image: EV Charging via Shutterstock.

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