Diversity & Inclusion

Women in IP case study

Dr A.K. Ola Hekselman – Battery scientist and entrepreneur

Dr A.K. Ola Hekselman is a remarkable scientist and entrepreneur who is passionate about the environment and widely acclaimed as a visionary in battery science.

She has been working in the field of battery technology since 2009 and completed her PhD research at the University of St Andrews, which was focussed on electrolyte systems for Li-ion and Na-ion batteries. A research fellowship at the University of Oxford and her postdoctoral research at Imperial College London also focussed on Li-ion batteries. However, when working with Dr David Payne at Imperial’s Department of Materials in 2017, Ola started to consider the environmental impact of a longer established battery technology, namely lead-acid batteries.  Lead-acid batteries have been used for over 100 years and they are used in all cars including electric vehicles. Lead-acid batteries are the most recycled product in the world with over 95% of lead-acid batteries being recycled, but the established recycling methods at best require expensive pollution control and at worst is dangerous and polluting. Ola was keen to provide a sustainable and efficient alternative, so she worked with Dr Payne on developing an improved, solvent-based method of recycling lead-acid batteries. This prompted the filing of a UK patent application to protect their invention, which has since been used to seek patent protection in multiple countries.

Ola participated in Imperial’s Techcelerate programme in 2018, which gave her the chance to consider the wider application and business potential of the solvent-based method she had developed with Dr Payne. Winning first prize at the showcase event that concluded the programme allowed Ola to develop the method further with support from Imperial’s business incubator and MBA Connect programmes. In 2019 Ola was awarded a Faraday Institution Entrepreneurial Fellowship with the intention of developing and commercialising the solvent-based method, which led Ola to co-found Solveteq in 2020.

The funding provided by the Fellowship enabled Solveteq to scale up the solvent-based method from lab-scale to bench-scale and to develop a closed-loop, continuous operations prototype. The Fellowship also allowed Solveteq to analyse the environmental, economic and operational advantages of their solvent-based method in comparison with established recycling methods.

By using non-toxic and biodegradable solvents at low temperatures, Solveteq’s method can help reduce carbon-dioxide emissions resulting from the high temperature smelting used in established recycling methods and hence help tackle the climate crisis. Solveteq’s method can also prevent lead pollution, which often results from informal recycling practices in low and middle-income countries and hence reduce the number of children suffering from lead poisoning (estimated to be up to 30% of children worldwide in a 2020 report by UNICEF and Pure Earth). Solveteq aims to make a positive impact on these societal and environmental issues.

Ola plans to scale-up Solveteq’s technology and to use the global network she has built to roll-out their technology to recyclers across the globe, providing them with a sustainable and cost-effective method of reducing their environmental impact. Her  work was awarded an Innovate UK ‘Women in Innovation’ in March 2023.

Marianne Privett, a partner at AA Thornton, first met Ola and learned about Solveteq’s innovative technology shortly before the pandemic. Marianne and colleagues from AA Thornton’s trade mark and litigation departments have helped Solveteq with a range of IP related matters and look forward to continuing to help as Solveteq expands globally.

Date Published: 26 April 2023

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