Lessons from the pharmaceutical industry’s commercialization successes can be identified and applied to the U.S. battery industry to potentially improve its discouragingly low startup success rates.
A carbon-neutral and sustainable society of the future necessitates the widespread use of battery technologies that are efficient, effective, and economical. Lower-cost and more energy-dense battery technology can help solve many of our energy challenges, such as balancing the intermittency problems of renewables and making possible electric transportation fleets. New advanced materials are crucial to such battery advances. However, bringing advanced energy materials to market in the United States remains a formidable challenge. Hurdles include high upfront capital requirements, long timelines to success, and few opportunities for technology risk-reduction. Such challenges impede startups from developing financially viable technologies. Consequently, recent advances in battery performance have come from incremental changes implemented by large companies. By contrast, the pharmaceutical industry has many similar technical challenges, yet has an established pipeline of U.S. startup successes. We review and compare the current market structures of battery and pharma innovation. We propose an updated model of U.S. battery commercialization, informed by the pharma model’s successes. The new approach’s benefits and potential pitfalls are discussed. We provide recommendations for entrepreneurs, investors, manufacturers, and policy makers to improve the battery innovation ecosystem. We hope that these ideas spur the battery community to more successfully commercialize and deploy transformative technologies.