Zenn Motors To Up Stake in EEStor, OKs Test Results

How many milestone test announcements does it take for secretive ultracapacitor developer EEStor to reach commercialization? We’re thinking it’s like the old ’70s song: You ain’t seen nothing yet. But here’s the latest — on Thursday, Zenn Motors, EEStor’s electric vehicle partner and investor, said it has done “due diligence” on the test results (announced last month) of the energy storage capacity of a key material used in EEStor’s technology, conducted by researchers at Texas Research International. As a result of confirming that the test results are accurate, Zenn says that it plans to invest another $2 million to $5 million and boost its stake from 3.8 percent to between 6.2 percent and 10.5 percent. Zenn says the deal is contingent on how much the other EEStor shareholders (which reportedly includes Kleiner Perkins) want to up their investment and details will be announced when they’re determined.

Zenn CEO Ian Clifford was pretty blunt about wanting to boost the stake to the high side of that range, saying in the release: “We now plan to increase our shareholder position in EEStor to the fullest extent possible.” Zenn has already invested $2.5 million in EEStor and, with the confirmation of the test, will now deliver a milestone payment to EEStor for $700,000. Clifford told us last month that this test — a verification of the permittivity and performance characteristics under extreme temperatures — represents the third of four milestones set up as part of Zenn’s investment agreement. The fourth milestone is the delivery of a commercial product, Clifford said, as opposed to a lab-built demo.

Zenn is probably hoping this next round of investment can kick-start the commercialization process. EEStor was previously set to come out with its ultracapacitors last year, but it’s running way behind. Zenn has had to delay its electric car based on EEStor’s technology as a result of waiting on EEStor and doesn’t expect an initial introduction of the vehicle until late 2009, with commercial availability in 2010. For Zenn to make its new timeline, it needs to get its hands on an actual ultracapacitor from EEStor soon. But Zenn spokeswoman Catherine Scrimgeour told us, “No timeline has been announced” for when Zenn will receive one of EEStor’s units. So whether the successful test will actually bring the company closer to production remains to be seen.

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