EV Battery Pioneer Celina Mikolajczak on What to Expect in an EV World
"One of the things I look for with staff is, I'm looking for that passion." Celina Mikolajczak chief battery technology officer of Lyten tells SAE during a recent interview. Working to change nearly everything about the transportation world isn't really a nine-to-five job. It's difficult work that pits people against new problems that no one has had to solve before.
"No one's gonna be able to tell you how to solve them. You're gonna have to go dig in and figure it out," Mikolajczak said and there's decades of experience behind that statement.
Mikolajczak's first job in the automotive field was as a senior managing engineer at Exponent in 1999. While there, Mikolajczak began working with lithium-ion cells and batteries and became one of the first experts in the industry. Hired by Tesla in 2012, Mikolajczak became the head of cell quality and materials engineering. There were then stints at Uber working on batteries for the company's now-shuttered flying vehicle division and time with Panasonic working on EV batteries.
It's over 20 years of experience in an industry that many still consider to be in its infancy. For those interested in a career in the battery and EV industry don't expect too many textbooks on the subject. It's likely those studying relevant subjects in college might not get the exact lecture they'd need to say, build a battery module since EVs. "It's not like the disciplines that teach this stuff are different, it's how the class lectures are structured," Mikolajczak said. One thing to remember is that we've had over 100 years of development on ICE vehicles and a little over a decade for mass-produced EVs. This is all still a new and inspiring frontier.
"The new excitement is coming into, I wouldn't say clean tech, it's the new technologies that go with climate change and the concern about climate change," Mikolajczak said. "That means electrification, that means carbon capture, that means alternative energy sources. All these things become the hot items."
The result is entirely new supply chains and as Mikolajczak notes, rethinking how we extract minerals, "we also need to realize that we're basing our economy on a different set of minerals."
At the vehicle level, there are also new problems to solve with batteries. From the minerals to the finished pack, everything is evolving in varying ways. No two automakers are doing the same thing and that's likely a good thing. According to Mikolajczak, it's premature to set standards for battery packs. "I think where a lot of people have tripped up is that they're looking for the standard. You can get yourself into all kinds of trouble if you think there must be a standard way to do this," Mikolajczak told SAE.
For those getting into this still relatively new industry, there's still the freedom to figure things out. To help solve the big and small problems of the entire chain from mineral to vehicle production.
A quick look at today's EV landscape and you see every automaker trying something a little bit different. Maybe a few are on the right track for long-term success technology-wise, maybe only one. The only best practice for all is to be willing to try new solutions to these new problems.
"People should figure that this industry is going to go through a few more iterations," Mikolajczak told us.
For those interested in changing the industry, being comfortable with constant change will be a key to success. Also, passion. They're always looking for passion.