CCIA: What attracted you to the Energy Fellows Institute program?
Arrelaine Dameron: I worked for several years as a researcher at NREL developing applied energy science and technology. The Fellows program was attractive because I wanted to see the entrepreneurial side of energy technologies and I wanted to learn about what it was like to spin out a laboratory concept, develop the scaled prototype and pitch the company vision. I knew there were a lot of local energy technology centric companies, but I didn’t know about any of them. I was much more intrigued by the small energy startup story and the challenges of that process specific to energy tech than any of the specific energy topics.
CCIA: Tell us a little about yourself, your work and the path you’ve followed to get there.
AD: I am currently the director of R&D at Forge Nano, a materials company in Louisville. Forge Nano specializes in ultrathin conformal coatings onto and surface modification of powder materials for energy storage, catalysis, and other products. The primary purpose of the coatings is to enhance the powders applied capabilities – greater cycle life for batteries or contamination resistant and high-temperature-stabile catalysts for example. At Forge Nano I run the group that develops new coatings and modifies and tests materials for new applications.
Surface interactions control and influence so many bulk material properties! I have studied and developed some form of surface modification since my undergrad summer internships. I studied self-assembled monolayers and surface patterning in graduate school at Penn State. As a postdoc at CU I how to synthesize precise coatings with atomic layer deposition (ALD), the primary technique we use now at Forge Nano. Via a short industrial job at a OLED startup I expanded my coatings repertoire to include other forms of deposition. Eventually, I used all of those as a research scientist at NREL, modifying interfaces and surfaces to advance photovoltaics, fuel cells, hydrogen storage and batteries.
CCIA: What are some direct or indirect results of your involvement in the program?
AD: There are several. Direct results include learning about CCIA and the knowledge base there, which I still use as a resource today; the incredible network that I developed during and following the program; and resources of the specific instructors and institutions that we heard from and visited. Indirectly but perhaps the most impactful result was the inspiration to leave my government R&D job and join the local small energy industry, which occurred approximately two years later.
CCIA: Describe your favorite tour from the program.
AD: There were many good ones – medicine man, the marijuana grow facility was memorable, touring the Cherokee power plant was neat as a factory tour and to hear ‘an applying new tech for established power company’ perspective. My favorite wasn’t one that I anticipated liking at all. It was the Xcel Energy trading floor. I had no idea it existed or how it worked or how complicated and often illogical energy pricing is. This is also the first (of many that occurred during my fellows program) realization of how fragile the US energy grid is. That day we were fortunate to have the scheduled Xcel energy trade manager and a visiting trader explain the process. The visits to offices for software and IoT companies weren’t show stopping tours, but still stand out – hearing the development process from the Rachio founder and questioning human motivations with the Simple Energy founder.
CCIA: What information, connection or presentation during the program was the most impactful for you, and why?
AD: While the presentations/lectures were good, I found I learned the most from the follow on discussions with my Fellows peers. Our class had a diverse mix of experience from tech to bis dev to finance. Hearing the questions that others asked that often lead to secondary and tangential explanations or questions provided the perspective of these other people as well as my own.
CCIA: What advice would you give someone considering applying for the program?
AD: Don’t ask to carpool. 😉