Energy and the Environment 2012
Yet-Ming Chiang became the youngest tenured professor in the history of MIT’s Material Science and Engineering Department in 1990. His research has focused on the design of advanced inorganic materials and related devices.
In the late 1990s Chiang achieved a breakthrough in lithium ion batteries upon discovering nanoscale metal phosphate cathodes. This innovation led to a new generation of lithium ion batteries with unprecedented power, safety, and life, in turn enabling energy applications far beyond the cellphone and laptops markets served by previous lithium ion batteries.
Chiang co-founded A123 Systems in 2001 while on leave from MIT. Within 33 months the company had developed its first product and scaled to mass production. In 2005 A123 announced its first customer, the Fortune 500 company Black and Decker, who used the new technology in its DeWalt brand to create cordless power tools with nearly double the power of corded tools.
Applications in the transportation sector quickly followed, such as in Daimler-Orion VII hybrid city transit buses equipped with BAE’s HybriDrive propulsion system. This fleet has cumulatively driven more than 300 million road miles, enough to circle the Earth 12,000 times. Automotive platforms using the technology include the Fisker Karma, BMW ActiveHybrid 3 and 5 series and upcoming Chevy Spark EV. Despite a slower than expected market uptake of electric vehicles, according to an estimate by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, the global lithium ion automotive battery market will grow from US$1.5 billion today to about US$10 billion by 2015.
At utility scale, highly efficient batteries reduce the emissions from fossil fuel power plants, make the electric grid more robust and reliable, and buffer the intermittent power output of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Batteries using Chiang’s nanomaterial are today deployed in over 90 megawatts of installed grid-scale storage with another 30 megawatts under contract, more than any other type of lithium ion.
Before founding A123 Systems, Chiang was a co-founder of American Superconductor. He has continued to develop new storage technologies, and at his latest company 24M Technologies founded in 2010, he leads a team developing a revolutionary design and manufacturing platform to provide high energy rechargeable batteries at the lowest cost the world has ever known.
Chiang continues to teach at MIT.