Whitacre wins Lemelson-MIT prize

Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, is the recipient of the 2015 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Lemelson-MIT Prize honours outstanding mid-career inventors improving the world through technological invention and demonstrating a commitment to mentorship in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Whitacre is the inventor of the aqueous hybrid ion energy storage system. This battery, often used in combination with solar and wind energy systems, stores significant amounts of energy at a low cost per joule and allows for around-the-clock consumption.

Whitacre founded Aquion Energy in 2008 with finance from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, with the goal of bringing to market a new class of aqueous sodium ion functional battery. This has now been commercialized and installed in locations including Australia, California, Germany, Hawaii, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Whitacre says he plans to contribute a portion of the money from the Lemelson-MIT Prize to create a fellowship to support graduate students and nurture interest in innovative energy solutions.

Whitacre holds 30 patents or pending patents, and has had more than 60 peer-reviewed papers published or in press.

His additional areas of focus have concentrated on a broad range of subjects that include thin-film solid state batteries, ultra-low temperature carbon-fluorine electrode materials and implantable neuro-prosthetic devices.

He is in the process of forming a cross-disciplinary centre at Carnegie Mellon University that focuses on electrode materials and structures with a variety of applications including water purification and biomedical devices.