Innovation award for University alumna

Alumna Dr Shalini Divya has been recognised for her years of work creating sustainable batteries with a KiwiNet Breakthrough Innovator Award.

Girl with glasses and long hair holding electric item
Years of work on creating more sustainable, affordable, and safer battery technology has been recognised with a KiwiNet Breakthrough Innovator Award for University alumna Dr Shalini Divya.

As a PhD student in Chemistry, Dr Divya worked with Professor Jim Johnston from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences and former University professor Thomas Nann, now at the University of Newcastle, on new battery technology. Professor Johnston was also the recipient of several KiwiNet awards in 2020.

Existing lithium-ion battery technology has several problems. The lithium used to create these batteries is not an abundant element, and the continued mining of it is unsustainable in the long term. Lithium-ion batteries also present a fire risk if they short circuit and overheat.

Dr Divya’s research culminated in a new material to be used in aluminium-ion batteries. Not only is aluminium a much more abundant element and a more sustainable long-term option for batteries, the material Dr Divya created also outperforms most available energy storage materials, making for better batteries overall.

“I’m incredibly passionate about climate change and energy storage,” Dr Divya says. “I’d also worked on different energy storage devices during my Master’s, so I was excited to continue work in that area for my PhD.”

During her PhD and after graduating, Dr Divya worked with Wellington UniVentures, the university company responsible for creating new enterprises from University research, to launch her start-up company TasmanIon, take her research to market, and gain the skills she would need to move from researcher to chief executive. With Wellington UniVentures’ help, she was accepted on to the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme and receiving $20,000 in funding to explore markets for her new invention.

“The day I realised that batteries I made in my laboratory could be commercialised was unforgettable,” Dr Divya says.

“When the sun doesn’t shine, or the wind doesn’t blow, we need batteries to store renewable energy reserves to help make our energy use more sustainable. Sustainable batteries to support renewable energy will also help secure the energy needs of those around the world, which is a huge step in lifting people out of poverty.”

“New Zealand will also benefit economically from holding the intellectual property for this new invention.”

The KiwiNet Breakthrough Innovator Award recognises an entrepreneurial researcher who is making outstanding contributions to business innovation.

The award is one of the KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards, given annually by KiwiNet.

“I am overwhelmed with joy at winning this award,” Dr Divya says. “I definitely wasn’t expecting to win.

“I am incredibly grateful to the University for its support in the form of a doctoral scholarship and for giving me excellent PhD supervisors. Professor Johnston has been my biggest guide and mentor on the path to commercialisation and continues to be a huge source of support.

“I have a very steep learning curve ahead of me, and I hope to take TasmanIon to even greater heights in the future.”
PhD student Ged Finch was also a finalist for the KiwiNet Breakthrough Innovator Award. Ged’s research and work with Wellington UniVentures led to the creation of XFrame™, a reusable framing system for buildings, designed to make the construction industry more sustainable.

Wellington UniVentures general manager commercialisation Hamish Findlay was also a finalist for the KiwiNet Commercialisation Professional Award.