Jay Whitacre

Inventor Creates First Mass-Produced Low-Cost, Eco-Friendly Battery; Awarded $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize

Jay Whitacre showed technical prowess as a young boy growing up in Westerville, Ohio. He was an avid computer programmer by age 11 and his achievements in science and engineering earned him state honors by the time he reached high school. His interests in energy technologies were fostered during his undergraduate days at Oberlin College (where he majored in Physics), and he subsequently earned his PhD at the University of Michigan (in Materials Science and Engineering). Whitacre is now internationally recognized for his work in the field of large-scale energy storage devices and systems. He holds 30 patents or pending patents and has had more than 60 peer-reviewed papers published or in press.

The company he founded in 2008, Aquion Energy, is meeting an urgent social, environmental and economic need with an exciting and disruptive new non-toxic energy storage product – the Aqueous Hybrid Ion (AHI™) battery.

Whitacre is an admired, sought-after Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering and a mentor who has made a strong commitment to igniting a passion for STEM among youth.

Whitacre is the winner of the 2015 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize for his groundbreaking sustainable inventions to improve our world and dedication to the next generation.

He launched Aquion Energy to bring to market a new class of battery that can provide long-term storage of energy from solar, wind and other intermittent sources at a very low cost. Aquion’s product, the AHI™ battery, is the only sustainable battery ever to be mass produced and Cradle to Cradle Certified™.

Whitacre is recognized for his ability to connect laboratory discovery, policy impact and entrepreneurial savvy. Fortune magazine listed Whitacre as one of the world’s Top 25 Eco Innovators in May 2014. Aquion Energy has made MIT Technology Review’s “50 Smartest Companies” list in both 2013 and 2014. He is the recipient of the 2014 Carnegie Science Award for Advanced Materials and the 2014 Caltech Resnick Institute’s Resonate Award for Sustained Achievement in Sustainability Science.

Whitacre is active in a number of STEM promotion programs that target K-12 students in Pittsburgh and seeks to expose them to an immersive set of learning sessions. He also opens up the doors of Aquion Energy for a range of tours and other events that show the public what happens behind the scenes of a materials processing company. Whitacre is also known for his ability to reduce complex concepts into captivating narratives for diverse audiences, including a TEDx talk that weaves in personal motivation and inspiration with technical content.

He was promoted to the rank of full professor in 2015 at Carnegie Mellon University in the Departments of Materials Science & Engineering and Engineering & Public Policy. He also retains the title of Chief Technology Officer at Aquion Energy. Prior to joining Carnegie Mellon University, Whitacre was a senior member at the California Institute of Technology‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he led research efforts focused on understanding and improving the interfacial and bulk properties of electrochemical materials for space and terrestrial applications. He was the first Cognizant Engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory Descent Stage energy storage sub-system, a task that included oversight, design and the early stages of implementing a thermal battery-based system that powered the 20-minute Entry Descent and Landing phase of Curiosity’s mission in August 2012. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife and two children.