ETV Motors Revs Up Better Batteries, Engines for Plug-in Cars

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An Israeli startup hopes its battery and engine tech can help rev up the market for extended-range electric vehicles. This type of car — the Chevy Volt from General Motors is the most prominent example — runs on electricity until the battery charge depletes and a small gas engine kicks in. ETV Motors, a 2-year-old startup that presented at the Israel Cleantech Summit in Palo Alto, Calif. on Tuesday, is on the hunt this week in California for new funds and partners to help develop its battery cell and engine technology for licensing and direct sales to automakers and major auto suppliers.

ETV thinks its technology can tackle two of the biggest hurdles for mass adoption of plug-in vehicles: high battery costs and limited charging infrastructure. The company’s working on lithium-ion cells for higher energy density batteries, as well as a microturbine-based engine meant to keep vehicle batteries charged. The idea is to use its engine, which has fewer moving parts than a conventional internal combustion engine, as a “range extender” in extended-range electric vehicles. ETV’s VP of Business Development Robert Meshel said today that ETV’s battery could be deployed without the engine in an all-electric vehicle, or paired with the engine for extended-range EVs.

ETV raised $12 million in 2008 in a round led by Quercus Trust, but the startup has to meet a set of benchmarks for the full amount of that funding to come through. Meshel said in his presentation today that ETV has raised $8 million to date, and is on the hunt for another $15 million in 2010 and $25 million in 2012 to help set up low scale production and assembly facilities, deliver a beta version of its devices, and begin to scale up.

ETV expects to see some of its first revenue this year through a deal to test an early version of its battery tech in military applications, which have less stringent requirements at this stage than the automotive market, said Meshel. By mid-2014, the company has the ambitious target of generating $50 million in revenue and becoming cash-flow positive.

That military project is set to bring in only about $2 million, but that’s enough to be significant for the startup at this point and will hopefully open some doors, Meshel said on the sidelines of Tuesday’s event, hosed by the California Israel Chamber of Commerce. Meshel says other deals are already in the works, with ETV holding advanced talks with three automakers (one large OEM and two companies with “niche products”) to pair ETV’s microturbine engines with the automakers’ platforms in 3-5 month long pilot tests.

It’s hardly a done deal, but Meshel said that one of those three potential partners has said it will license ETV’s tech if pilot testing goes well. That would be a huge coup for the startup, said Meshel, as it could leverage the partner’s U.S. infrastructure and local connections, avoid having to deal with warranty issues, and still gain access to the U.S. market.

In the meantime, while they’re here in California, Meshel said the ETV team plans to make the rounds to San Francisco Bay Area developers of electrolytes, separators and other materials for advanced batteries that could fit into ETV’s supply chain (some potential suppliers remain at a very early stage, others have products on the market already). ETV also plans to connect with companies throughout the state that provide testing services, and of course with Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

For more research on electric vehicles see GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Report: IT Opportunities in Electric Vehicle Management

Finding a Niche in the Electric Vehicle Market

Image courtesy of ETV.

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