Though most technologies currently in the MEI2 pipeline are still on a long arc toward reality, Ion Storage Systems (ISS) is further down that path. At a critical moment, the company received a boost towards market readiness in the form of a MEI2 seed grant.

At the Clark School, Eric Wachsman—William L. Crentz Centennial Chair in Energy Research in the Departments of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering and Materials Science & Engineering and ISS co-founder—focuses on the solid-oxide fuel cells and other battery technology. While working on a solid fuel cell project, Wachsman collaborated with a colleague on sabbatical, Venkataraman Thangadurai, who had spearheaded the development of a solid electrolyte material for lithium batteries. Together they realized that by joining the structure of Wachsman's fuel cell with the solid lithium electrolyte, they had something new and special on their hands.

The new battery was lightweight, energy-dense, and non-flammable. After an initial grant from the Department of Energy’s ARPA-e division to evolve the concept, Wachsman, Thangadurai, and Wachsman's former Ph.D. student Greg Hitz co-founded ISS in 2015 as a condition of the ARPA-e grant requirements.

Funding continued to roll in: from NASA, Lockheed Martin, and the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Then they had a battery—but no way to package it. Federal funds did not provide for a way to develop an envelope to put around the battery itself. Wachsman said the 2019 seed grant from MEI2 made it possible to overcome that awkward logistical hump. (As MEI2 Director, Wachsman recused himself from the seed grant review and decision process.)

MEI2 also provided the young company with its first incubator space in which to grow and develop its first fabrication facility. A year ago, ISS moved into its first off-campus production facility in Hyattsville, Maryland, which it’s already outgrown, Wachsman says. Today, the company employs 17 people.

Interest in the company’s technology is heady stuff. In addition to $20 million in funding from federal sources to date, ISS also attracted $8 million in private investment from Louie Alsop Partners, and in late 2020, was awarded a $500,000 contract to expedite the development of a wearable battery. Fast-charging and lightweight, the battery technology has incredible range, with applications from consumer electronics to electric vehicles and grid-level energy storage.

Private-sector investment is necessary for innovations to become reality, but for investors to buy in, one of the first things they need to see is a polished prototype: a potential product with legs. The MEI2 seed grants enable lab innovators to take their demos from the bench to the boardroom.

"You need a prototype or process demonstrated at a certain scale to excite the venture capital community. The seed grants have been a big focus of the institute—for any university spinoff to take it beyond a lab demo to a prototype that can be demonstrated to an investor."

— Eric Wachsman

The Energy Innovation Seed Grants are open to "all full-time tenured or tenure track faculty members at any Maryland state academic institution or Maryland companies affiliated with and commercializing inventions created by those faculty." If you are interested in partnering with us, please contact Cathy Stephens ( for more information.