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$3 Million Gift from CorDx to Boost Sustainable Energy Innovation at UC San Diego

Gift to boost Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC) at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

Celebrating the naming of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC) collaboratory in Franklin Antonio Hall at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering are (left to right): Ping Liu, nanoengineering professor and director of the UC San Diego Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC); Aiiso Yufeng Li (Jeff), Founder and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of CorDx, a global biotech company and leader in the manufacturing of in vitro diagnostics; Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and Special Adviser to the Chancellor; Liangfang Zhang, professor and chair of the nanoengineering department at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.
Celebrating the naming of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC) collaboratory in Franklin Antonio Hall at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering are (left to right): Ping Liu, nanoengineering professor and director of the UC San Diego Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC); Aiiso Yufeng Li (Jeff), Founder and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of CorDx, a global biotech company and leader in the manufacturing of in vitro diagnostics; Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and Special Adviser to the Chancellor; Liangfang Zhang, professor and chair of the nanoengineering department at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Photo credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering / David Baillot.

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Through his company CorDx, entrepreneur and philanthropist Aiiso Yufeng Li (Jeff) and Dongdong Guo (Doreen) have pledged $3 million to the University of California San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. The gift will support leading-edge research, education and collaborations in the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering’s Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC). This research center serves as an interdisciplinary hub for advancing battery, solar cell and other sustainable energy technologies through a mix of fundamental research and applied-research projects in collaboration with industry partners. 

Designated to support the programmatic expansion of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, the gift will go toward upgrades to the Sustainable Power and Energy Center’s research facilities and provide support for educational activities and – in collaboration with the UC San Diego Institute for the Global Entrepreneur – entrepreneurship efforts. 

In recognition of Li's generous gift, UC San Diego has named SPEC’s large research laboratory in Franklin Antonio Hall, within the Jacobs School of Engineering, as the CorDx Yufeng Li Collaboratory. 

SPEC brings together interdisciplinary groups of researchers – and industry partners – to innovate and develop next-generation batteries, solar cells, fuel cells and other materials and technologies required to meet society’s growing needs to store and manage low- and zero-carbon power and energy. Center researchers collaborate on projects ranging from theoretical and computational materials science to device manufacturing, integration, economics and real-world testing on the UC San Diego microgrid. (View SPEC brochure PDF here.)

“Mr. Li’s generous support is an investment in the future of sustainable energy,” said SPEC director and UC San Diego nanoengineering professor Ping Liu. “His gift will support a crucial mission of SPEC: to build a battery industry ecosystem in San Diego that spans the entire supply chain from the battery makers and suppliers all the way to the future battery workforce.” 

Sustaining a track record of entrepreneurship 

San Diego’s battery workforce is, in fact, increasingly driven by UC San Diego students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty – and there is potential for much more growth. This workforce launches startup companies to bring discoveries in the lab to commercialization; joins new and emerging battery startups; and brings new insights and technical skills to established companies in the region that are increasingly in need of cutting edge expertise in batteries and related technologies. 

As the Founder and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) of CorDx, a global biotech company and a leader in the manufacturing of in vitro diagnostics, Li is a strong supporter of entrepreneurship. He was particularly impressed by SPEC’s successful track record of launching startup companies that are dedicated to advancing sustainable energy solutions. 

“I strongly believe in the power of innovation and the potential of the passionate, hardworking individuals in SPEC to shape the future of sustainable energy technology,” said Li. “Seeing the companies emerging from SPEC, I see the opportunity to not only support young entrepreneurs from UC San Diego, but also to invest in the future of our environment and society. It is my dream to help promote their efforts to the next level and thereby create a legacy of positive impact on people’s lives.” 

This drive to create positive impacts through entrepreneurship took root early on in Li’s life. In his second year of college, he launched a business in China to help people learn how to use computers and how to become IT professionals. In 2001, many people in his area did not have access to computers at home, so providing access to computers and to computing and IT learning materials offered significant, positive opportunities. During this early period of entrepreneurship, Li received support from administrators from the Life Sciences School at Hebei Normal University – and he never forgot just how useful early assistance can be. 

In the 21 years since these early entrepreneurial activities, one of Li’s steadfast collaborators and business partners has been CorDx co-founder, Mr. Lizhu Chen (Mac), who went to university with Li. 

Mr. Lizhu Chen (Mac) has earned my deepest appreciation. He holds a 10% stake in CorDx and is part of this great gift to SPEC and to the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.”

Now, as a successful entrepreneur, Li is focused on giving back to provide opportunities to future generations of technical entrepreneurs, with a particular focus on helping entrepreneurs working on projects that will improve the lives of others. The renewable research and entrepreneurship ecosystem within SPEC at UC San Diego fits this profile. 

Over the past seven years, UC San Diego's Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC) at the Jacobs School of Engineering has sparked a wave of innovation. This innovation has led to the creation of several exciting battery startups in San Diego, including South 8 Technologies, ExPost Technology, UNIGRID Battery and Tyfast Energy, which are all described below. 

Supporting new entrepreneurs 

Li’s generosity will not only enable SPEC to sustain and enhance its entrepreneurial initiatives, but also support the development of new startups through the UC San Diego Institute for the Global Entrepreneur and provide resources to aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Meeting Tyfast Energy CTO and co-founder, Haodong Liu – a former UC San Diego nanoengineering postdoctoral researcher and part of the SPEC community – reminded Li of his college days when he was starting his first company. Witnessing Liu’s hard work and commitment to make Tyfast Energy succeed resonated with Li, for it mirrored his own experiences during the early days of his entrepreneurial journey. It also brought back memories of the support he received from his college professors, and how that was instrumental in helping him achieve his goals. 

“As someone who has benefited from the generosity of mentors and the support of my college community, I want to pay it forward,” said Li. “One of the key life lessons I carry with me is the importance of giving back to society. I believe that true success lies in helping others succeed. Investing in students at UC San Diego who aspire to start their own companies is a way for me to share the support that I have received and contribute to a cycle of success.” 

Driving research, education and collaboration 

Li’s gift will play a key role in driving impactful research by providing funds to expand and enhance the research infrastructure of SPEC. This includes the purchase, installation and maintenance of dry rooms, which are rooms that are controlled to be free of moisture. “This infrastructure will significantly elevate our capabilities in battery and solar cell research,” said Ping Liu. “It will enable SPEC researchers to conduct more pilot scale studies and perform diagnostic studies that we cannot do with our current facilities.” 

Moreover, the gift will help advance SPEC’s efforts to train the next generation of battery researchers through initiatives like the summer battery camp and the recruitment of faculty doing cutting-edge battery research. 

By bolstering its research and training capabilities, the Center aims to broaden its industrial collaborations. SPEC currently partners with leading electric vehicle companies and battery manufacturing and testing companies around the world. The recent addition of industry partners Ampcera, Avery Dennison, Enpower Greentech, Factorial and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Research Institutes underscores the expanding scope and impact of the Center’s industry collaborations. 

“With the invaluable support of our visionary donor, Mr. Li, we are poised to propel SPEC to new heights in the energy landscape,” said Liu. “By fueling the Center’s entrepreneurial initiatives, advancing our cutting-edge research, enriching our educational opportunities and strengthening our bonds with industry leaders worldwide, Mr. Li’s contribution will aid us in positioning ourselves as a world leader in sustainable power and energy.” 

SPEC Battery Startups 

UC San Diego battery researchers have an impressive track record of publishing groundbreaking academic research papers and then building startup companies based on the innovations and discoveries described in these papers. Some of these UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering battery startups that have emerged from SPEC are highlighted below. 

South 8 Technologies 

South 8 Technologies is building batteries that are safer, lower cost, and can enable electric vehicles to run in the extreme cold. The key innovation for South 8’s batteries is that their electrolytes are made from liquefied gas solvents, which are resistant to freezing, unlike the traditional liquid electrolytes in today’s batteries. Liquefied gas electrolytes also offer a unique safety advantage: they can prevent thermal propagation in batteries by reducing the severity of individual cell failures. South 8 CSO and co-founder, Cyrus Rustomji, developed this idea while he was a materials science and engineering Ph.D. student in the lab of UC San Diego nanoengineering professor and SPEC founding director Ying Shirley Meng. Rustomji says the company is already shipping battery samples to automotive OEMs for their evaluation. 

ExPost Technology 

Sustainably dealing with batteries at the end of their life cycles is where ExPost Technology comes in. ExPost, co-founded by UC San Diego nanoengineering professor Zheng Chen, is developing a direct recycling method for lithium-ion batteries that is low-cost, eco-friendly and high-yield. The technology was built on a process that Chen’s lab developed to regenerate used battery materials, including both cathodes and anodes, so that they can be reused to make new batteries. The team’s studies show that they can take a variety of spent electrode materials and restore them to their original capacity and cycle performance. 

UNIGRID Battery 

UNIGRID Battery, also co-founded by Chen along with UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering Ph.D. alumni Darren H. S. Tan and Erik A. Wu, develops advanced sodium-ion batteries that are about half the cost of lithium-ion batteries and overcome supply chain challenges of energy storage technologies powered by lithium-ion batteries. UNIGRID has formulated an innovative anode chemistry that doubles the energy densities of sodium-ion batteries and eliminates their safety hazards, offering competitive advantages in distributed energy storage markets. 

Tyfast Energy 

Tyfast Energy is developing lithium-ion batteries that can be charged quickly and last longer. The company was co-founded by Haodong Liu, a former postdoctoral researcher in the lab of SPEC director and UC San Diego nanoengineering professor Ping Liu. Tyfast Energy’s batteries can charge in three minutes and run for 20,000 charging cycles, making them promising for applications such as electric buses, power tools and heavy equipment, where both high energy density and high power are desired. For comparison, today’s lithium-ion batteries take hours to charge and run for about 1,000 cycles before degrading. The technology relies on a new anode material, lithium vanadium oxide, which was discovered and studied by professor Ping Liu’s team in collaboration with UC San Diego nanoengineering professor Shyue Ping Ong. The researchers say that the company is shipping sample batteries to OEMs for testing and evaluation. 

Strengthening the San Diego Battery Ecosystem 

I’m honored to add my heartfelt thanks to Jeff (Aiiso Yufeng Li) and Doreen (Dongdong Guo), for their vision and generosity in supporting our Sustainable Power and Energy Center,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and Special Adviser to the Chancellor. “We launched SPEC to increase cross-disciplinary research collaborations, to partner with industry more effectively, to strengthen the regional talent ecosystem for batteries, and to increase the positive impact our sustainable-power-and-energy researchers have on society. This new gift highlights just how far we have come. In addition, the direct and indirect positive outcomes of this gift will create even more headroom in which we will deliver ever more meaningful positive impacts in sustainable energy.” 

 

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