On October 25, 2022, Princeton NuEnergy (PNE), a clean-tech startup focused on innovating new ways to recycle lithium-ion batteries (LIB), announced the grand opening of its new joint pilot production line in McKinney, Texas, in partnership with Wistron GreenTech.
According to PNE and Wistron GreenTech, this joint pilot line is the first end-to-end, production-scale direct recycling line in the U.S. for lithium-ion batteries. Using PNE’s proprietary technology, the facility can process LIB’s ranging from consumer electronics to full electric vehicle battery packs. The McKinney facility has the capacity to process up to 500 tons annually of LIB manufacturing scrap and end-of-life batteries. Compared to other LIB recycling technologies, PNE’s direct recycling process significantly reduces cost, environmental waste and carbon dioxide emissions, resulting in higher recovery rates and performance of upcycled critical materials.
The company is based on technologies developed in the laboratories of Princeton faculty Yiguang Ju, the Robert Porter Patterson Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Bruce Koel, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Ju and Koel, along with postdoctoral researchers Chao Yan and Xiaofang Yang, developed the process. They then founded PNE in 2019 to commercialize the technology, with Yan as Chief Executive Officer and Yang as Chief Technology Officer. Ju and Koel remain with PNE as technology advisors. Jerry Xiang ’20 *22 is also on the founding team.
In November, PNE won a $12 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to further their operations. This funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill signed by President Biden which included more than $126 million toward ten projects (including PNE) in the domestic second life applications sector for electric vehicles. “We are excited to show how we can leverage this technology for the United States' lithium-ion battery supply chain," said Yang.
On the occasion of the grand opening, I had the privilege of sitting with Stephen Snyder, Chief Strategy Officer at PNE and an Executive in Residence at Princeton’s Office of Technology Licensing, to ask more about PNE and its founding.
Snyder first encountered Yan, Yang and Xiang while an Executive in Residence, working with Princeton professors and postdocs and helping them think through the best path for commercializing their ideas through startups, licensing or other structures. According to Snyder, at this point Yan, Yang and Xiang had interesting ideas, clear proof points in their research, a strong commitment to creating a new business and the benefit of a potentially burgeoning lithium-ion battery recycling and production market.
He had nothing but praise for Yan, the founding member who had first conceived of PNE and the first person with whom Snyder talked. “I got involved with PNE in a large part because of Chao. He’s personable, smart and business savvy,” he stated. “He’s focused enough on the tech, but what he, Xiaofang (CTO) and Peng Zhao (COO) are really trying to do is build a highly collaborative and committed team that works well together and deliver on a truly impactful mission.” He also credits Yan’s “hustle” for being the driving force for the strategic Texas pilot factory jointly with Wistron GreenTech, which was spun out of the renowned hardware and electronics company Acer. While Snyder made sure to point out that he did not play a significant role in PNE’s founding as did Yan, Yang and Xiang, he did discuss the role that he fulfills as CSO of PNE, supporting the team and helping bridge gaps as they grow their customer base, set up factories, and formulate strategies to land recycling contracts.
Yan, Yang and Xiang won a 2022 Tiger Entrepreneur Award from Princeton Entrepreneurship Council in recognition of their success.
Snyder noted Princeton’s recent advances in strengthening entrepreneurship: “The entrepreneurship ecosystem and teams at Princeton can truly help professors and their post-docs see creative ideas come to life, moving from the labs to the real world.” With all that it has accomplished already in its early stages, PNE is a great example of translating a research idea at Princeton into a new venture that benefits society.