Business news from the Fredericksburg region.
He’s the on trail of high-tech’s holy grail
ORLANDO, Fla.—Brandon Lojewski’s mad-scientist routine began quietly in a college engineering lab in Orlando.
Four years later, the 25-year-old’s project at the University of Central Florida has morphed into a high-tech startup that could play a key role in revving up battery power in everything from iPhones to Teslas.
Lojewski founded Mesdi Systems Inc., which is developing miniature-spray equipment to douse microbatteries and other tech components with protective coatings that would extend battery life.
As a teenager growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Lojewski invented new skateboards and model rockets; in college, he built rocket designs for NASA-sponsored contests. He hit his stride at UCF.
“I fell in love with the idea of taking this new spray technology and putting it into manufacturing apps for renewable energy,” he said. “I had a lifelong dream of running my own business and working for myself.”
Supporters say Lojewski is on the trail of the high-tech holy grail: a high-capacity solid-state battery that doesn’t cost a fortune to make.
Though Mesdi is an acronym for a big name—Multiplexed Electro-Spray Developers and Innovators—its secret weapon is very small: a sprayer nozzle about the width of a human hair. With computerized precision, the system uses hundreds of micronozzles to spray coatings to insulate each battery component.
Mesdi has $110,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and a licensing agreement with UCF that is expected to open the door for expanding Lojewski’s business nationwide. In January, Lojewski and his crew of about half a dozen opened a factory in Melbourne, Fla.
Companies have tried for decades to commercialize solid-state batteries beyond high-end specialty devices such as medical instruments, but they’ve been too expensive for the consumer market, said Craig Nelson, a Central Florida energy-tech executive who has joined Lojewski’s enterprise.
“The opportunity for Mesdi’s technology goes to everything that would benefit from a solid-state storage device,” Nelson said. “Does Apple want solid-state batteries for its devices? Yes, it does. Do hybrid-vehicle makers? Of course.”
Although he is competing with other spray systems, Lojewski contends his system has a leg up on the rivals.
“Until now, the challenge in developing this process has been doing it in an economically feasible way. We believe we have found the route to do that,” he said.
Unlike conventional liquid-based batteries, solid-state lithium-ion batteries contain only inorganic materials that are safer, less susceptible to overheating and more potent, experts say.
Lojewski says he first saw the technology as a research assistant at UCF for Weiwei Deng, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. Deng brought the idea with him when he joined UCF from Yale University. He and Lojewski co-developed the basic science for several years as Lojewski completed his master’s degree with Deng as his adviser.
Deng remains a key technical adviser to Mesdi Systems and part of UCF’s support infrastructure for entrepreneurs. Lojewski, who invented the system’s nozzle assembly, signed a licensing agreement with UCF in August that will include royalty payments to the college based on Mesdi’s future sales.
“Mesdi is a clear example of the benefits of helping our student entrepreneurs enter the marketplace,” said Svetlana Shtrom, UCF’s director of technology commercialization.
Mesdi still faces some questions. Can it mass-produce systems that still perform as well as the laboratory versions? Where will it get the capital to take the product nationwide?
Lojewski’s technology shows great promise, even though it is still in the early stages, said Scott Faris, a veteran energy-technology entrepreneur.
“Until now, the price differential in making these solid-state devices could be a factor of 10 to 20 or more,” said Faris, president of Orlando-based MicroVapor Devices Inc. and chairman of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. “Would people spend that much more to save the inconvenience of recharging their phones every night? The answer is no. But the approach Brandon is taking could very well change that.”