Alum startup uses saltwater to boost battery tech

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Born and raised in Calgary, Keith Cleland (MASc ‘22, chemical engineering) initially thought he would end up working in the oil industry. Interested in working for a sustainable future instead, Cleland spent his undergraduate degree researching a battery that would use a cheap and available resource — saltwater— to store renewable energy. 

Cleland continued developing his technology as part of his master’s degree at Waterloo Engineering where he met Ellsworth Bell (MASc ‘21, chemical engineering), a classmate working in the same lab. Together, they founded Aqua-Cell Energy Inc. with plans to commercialize a saltwater battery. 

The company recently accepted a coveted residence through Venture Ready at Waterloo’s Velocity, which helps the founders of early-stage companies get the expertise and connections they need to make their businesses a success. Aqua-Cell Energy has also won several pitch competitions including the Concept $5K through Velocity in 2020, the GreenHouse Social Impact Fund in 2021 and the $15K Problem Pitch in 2022.

With the help of Velocity, Aqua-Cell Energy is moving forward with a pilot project and is seeking grants to help them scale. “We are in the phase of scaling up the technology to store a lot more energy. We know it works in the lab but now we need to scale it up and build confidence in the technology.”

Although solar technology has dramatically come down in price over the years, Cleland explains that lithium batteries are expensive to store a lot of excess energy. This costly energy storage is a barrier to clean energy adoption. If excess solar energy on sunny days could be stored and used to lower energy costs in the evening when electricity is most expensive, or on cloudy days, renewable energy would become much more cost-effective, attractive and widespread.

Cleland hopes to make that happen with Aqua-Cell Energy’s technology.

Go to Boosting clean energy adoption for the full story.