The aptly named Qnovo wants to help the world get more value from existing lithium-ion battery technology. In its name, Q is derived from the symbol in physics that represents electric charge, and novo is a remix of the word nouveau, meaning new. Therefore, in full, Qnovo stands for “a new way of charging.”
Qnovo’s value proposition is anchored on providing intelligence through software that gets the most out of existing battery technology as well as reaching new levels of battery safety, irrespective of the battery chemistry. Qnovo holds over 50 patents in the space. The company is headquartered in Milpitas, California, and is already working with some of the world’s top automotive OEMs.
Through over thirteen years of deep research into battery materials, silicon chips, and software, Qnovo realized that there was a need to put more intelligence in battery management systems to get better performance. The company started off by designing its own silicon chips. Early products focused on a combination of hardware and software solutions as the team felt they needed to control the hardware side of things as well. Qnovo’s founders had realized very early on that battery management systems would be one of the critical pieces for mobility going forward and there would be a need for high performance and safe batteries.
To get things going, Qnovo first targeted the cellphone industry, as at the time, the electric vehicle market of the modern era was not yet fully developed, with only the Tesla Roadster and a few other vehicles just arriving on the market. Cellphones, on the other hand, were a growing market after the introduction of the iPhone. The cellphone market was already an existing large addressable market which presented Qnovo with an incredible opportunity to further develop, jointly test, and launch its new products with cellphone manufacturers and phone service providers/carriers. The cellphone industry also offered Qnovo an industry with a fast turnaround time. It was therefore the perfect platform to develop and commercialize its product while waiting for the electric mobility industry to mature.
Qnovo’s software was piloted in several leading phones and then commercially rolled out to over 150 million mobile phones globally from 2016 to date. The company launched its next product with its Japanese partner NTT DOCOMO. NTT DOCOMO has just launched a new phone in Japan that has a 4-year battery life powered by Qnovo’s software. This extended battery life means that phones will last much longer, leading to a more sustainable ecosystem in the mobile phone industry where people won’t need to abandon their phones too early.
It was during the company’s work with cellphone manufacturers that they saw that many manufacturers were not too keen on adding extra hardware in their products. It was also a sort of eureka moment for the Qnovo team as they realized they could potentially achieve their goals using only software. No one else was doing this at that time, and therefore the team took up the challenge to come up with their own product.
CEO and Co-Founder Nadim Maluf says, “Software is the packaging and delivery mechanism for the intelligence and capabilities that are underpinned by complex chemical models making use of the ability to measure the state of your battery in real time.” The real deal is in understanding the battery materials and their behavior, especially how batteries age, and then applying that in models that drive the software. In fact, really understanding how a battery works and tracking the aging process is Qnovo’s unique value proposition and core competency, and Nadim says his team is at the forefront of this work.
Under what conditions batteries age naturally, how accelerated aging occurs, and understanding the root causes of aging are the real pillars of Qnovo’s products and the key driver of its models.
Since the start of the software-only product, Qnovo’s team of battery experts has been led by Dania Ghantous, Co-Founder and VP of Technology. Dania is a seasoned battery specialist who has previously been voted in the top 100 women of influence in Silicon Valley. Through various experimental techniques and tests, her team’s deep dive into aging allowed them to get unique insights into how to optimize battery performance. It led to realization that it wasn’t all about the materials science and the chemistry; there was a need to add a layer of intelligence based on the understanding of the materials and the chemistry to get better performance and longevity from battery management systems.
A lot of aging and degradation happens during charging, yet the standard way of charging does not factor in the battery’s current state of health. A new way to charge had to take into consideration battery health and degradation — Qnovo zones in on this using its proprietary platform to enable adaptive charging.
Qnovo’s software continuously monitors the battery and is most active during charging sessions, adapting the charge based on the current and predictive state of the battery. Qnovo makes real-time measurements using electric impedance spectroscopy (EIS) that provide a unique insight into the aging and other degradation processes taking place inside the battery. The measurements then have to be compared with models to then assess if what it is being measured now is how it’s supposed to be or if it’s indicating that something else requires a correction. For example, if the software is seeing earlier than expected signs of aging, it then moves to optimize charging to prolong battery health (adaptive charging). This happens every time the battery is plugged in. Qnovo’s software also goes through every cell every time you plug in, gathering data of all the cells and their state of health, making suggestions for the charging profiles accordingly. So, they get unique knowledge of batteries from all the data they will be constantly collecting.
Dania says, “Our team understands how batteries degrade during charging, and so we asked ourselves how we could improve charging and slow down and mitigate some of the reactions taking place during charging? The main degradation in batteries is due to the solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) layer consuming some of Li inventory in a battery over time. That’s normal aging, which will happen in any battery over time, but then there are also reactions that result in lithium metal plating which are detrimental as they consume Li inventory and can be a safety risk. Lithium plating can happen if you are fast charging incorrectly, if there is a defect in the battery, while charging in very cold weather or when running a high current in the battery. Standard charging methods don’t see these transformations over time, and they will just charge the same way.”
Throughout the development process, they came to the understanding that charging algorithms have to be adaptive because the battery changes quite a lot and therefore they can’t be static. There was no standard equipment available anywhere to do all these studies. Qnovo had to design its own test infrastructure from scratch to test its charging algorithms. This equipment was custom designed by Fred Berkowitz, Co-Founder and Qnovo’s VP of Product Engineering, and his team.
Fred’s team takes all of the output from Dania’s team and packages it into the models driving the software that is going to meet the criteria of their customers. Together, they build them into library functions that customers can then choose which ones they want. Fred says they have a distributed modular configurable architecture which makes it suitable for various applications such as in consumer devices, commercial tools, construction equipment, 2-wheelers to 18-wheelers, residential energy storage, and grid-scale storage.
As part of its battery testing regime, Qnovo goes through a series of processes to understand the material properties. They grab all the outputs from those tests and input them into a series of models that then feed into “the main model” driving their software. These models look at things like Li plating, temperature effects, fast charging behavior, and the kinetics of the cell. These then get built into a charging algorithm. Because of the adaptiveness of the algorithm, Qnovo can then mitigate against the effects of the side reactions taking place. This then allows for enabling higher Depth of Discharge (DOD), faster charging, etc., within an extended band of parameters from the customary boundaries current batteries are confined. Qnovo also says that its software is particularly useful in high energy density battery chemistry. The more energy-dense the battery, the more Lithium ions are stacked in the same volume — this is where managing the traffic of ions becomes critical. Nadim calls this a case where “Qnovo shines as a traffic manager.”
Qnovo has raised over $40M in funding by leading investors including BorgWarner, OGCI Climate Investments, Constellation Technology Ventures, U.S. Venture Partners, and RockPort Capital. So, after rolling out its product in over 150 million mobile phones, Qnovo now works with the world’s top automotive OEMs. One of its main products for the auto industry is SpectralX, a software-only solution that works as a layer on top of a manufacturer’s existing battery management system (BMS) with a minimal footprint. According to the team, SpectralX uses predictive analytics to improve battery performance, EV range by up to 10%, and safety in all types of electric vehicles with any type of lithium-ion battery. Qnovo says the addition of Qnovo’s Battery Genome© helps to automate the cell selection process, saving time in qualification to facilitate deployment of SpectralX in a matter of weeks on a vehicle.
Qnovo’s SpectralX Health and Safety goes beyond assessment capabilities to predictively identify cells that may be at risk of failure and recommend the rate of charge adjustment to mitigate the problems before they turn into safety hazards. It runs as a software layer over SpectralX Charging, combining adaptive charging and mitigation to deliver ultrafast charging without compromising safety, performance, or cycle life.
Qnovo SpectralX Services arms OEMs and electric vehicle fleet managers with on-vehicle and cloud-based applications. OEMs can theoretically see all their cars and which ones to recall if necessary, rather than issue a blanket recall, saving money and time. For fleets, the software optimizes fleet operations, performs safety monitoring to identify defective batteries, projects the remaining useful life of a battery to better plan lifecycle management, and predicts the state of the battery over time to help optimize routes and load planning in real time.
Last month Qnovo announced at CES that it has signed a strategic partnership with Vanderhall Motor Works, a US manufacturer of light mobility vehicles. Vanderhall will utilize Qnovo’s new innovation for electrified mobility, SpectralX, in its electric vehicles starting in 2023.
Qnovo licenses its software to OEMs in the auto and mobile phone industry. When it starts working with a partner, Qnovo quickly finds out which battery the partner plans to use or if they need help selecting a battery. Qnovo then recommends the appropriate battery for their applications. With decades of collective experience, the team has in-depth knowledge of batteries produced by all major battery manufacturers. This enables the team to customize the software to work with that battery, which takes on average two to three weeks. The relationship doesn’t end there. Qnovo then has over-the-air (OTA) updates for improvements over the life of the phone or vehicle. It also offers a monitoring and diagnostics service where they monitor battery health continuously.
Qnovo’s cloud solution can optimize fleet operators’ routes via constantly monitoring state of battery state of charge and state of health. Visibility on a cell level in real time. This real-time cell level view is critical for OEMs and fleet operators. That means OEMs can see all their cars on roads and can see which ones to recall if necessary, instead rather than just issue a blanket recall, saving money and time.
Qnovo’s solutions also have application in the circular economy and for the insurance industry. Battery intelligence and adaptive charging is critical for second life batteries (batteries repurposed for secondary uses after their initial lifecycle). In the foreseeable future, millions of EV batteries will potentially have a second life, and each of those batteries will need to be tested to determine if they can be repurposed. Qnovo’s software automates this process, showing which cells in a battery may have issues — the current manual method of testing is not scalable. It will also help the insurance industry. This historical view as well as the current state of health of the battery can help assist in predictions of how much more life that battery has. Insurance companies could also now monetize this and offer extended warranties.
Images courtesy of Qnovo
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