EnerG2, a company working on synthetic carbon materials for energy storage devices, hit pay dirt last summer with the award of a $21.3 million stimulus grant under a highly competitive Department of Energy program. Today, in Albany, Ore., the 7-year-old startup finally kicked off the $28 million commercial-scale manufacturing project made possible by that DOE grant.
Based in Seattle, Wash., EnerG2 was spun out of the labs at the University of Washington in 2003 under the leadership of then-Ph.D. candidate Aaron Feaver and materials science professor Guozhong Cao, and has now raised upwards of $14.5 million in equity financing. The company’s entire 25-person staff is in Albany today for the launch of the factory project, which will involve converting an old warehouse into a high-tech factory, Chief Operating and Financial Officer Chris Wheaton told us this morning.
There won’t be any “exotic pieces of machinery,” he said, but the installation and integration of equipment needed to crank out the company’s nano-structured carbon powder, or electrode carbon, “is really the magic that’s going to occur over the next 12-14 months.”
EnerG2 says the Albany project will create at least 50 temporary construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs at the plant by Oct. 2011, when it’s scheduled to come online. Wheaton and CEO Rick Luebbe told us today that the company expects initial customers to be makers of ultracapacitors. With ultra-fast charge times, these devices can absorb voltage drops and surges to extend battery life, or store electricity on their own, although their storage capacity has generally lagged somewhere around 5 percent of batteries’ capacity.
To start, EnerG2 will focus on transportation and automotive applications for its tech, and plans for the DOE project call for production of electrode carbon in large enough quantities to supply energy storage devices for up to 60,000 electric vehicles per year.
A growing number of companies hope to disrupt the energy storage market with ultracap tech. Toronto, Canada-based Zenn Motor has dropped its electric vehicle manufacturing business to focus entirely on CEO Ian Clifford’s vision of providing an electric drive system based on ultracapacitor technology from EEStor, a highly secretive Texas startup with a history of missed deadlines. Graphene Energy, an Austin, Tex.-based startup backed by David Gelbaum’s Quercus Trust, is working to develop technology with at least twice the storage capacity of commercially available ultracaps using a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon.
According to the the Environmental Assessment of the Albany project prepared for the DOE earlier this year, ultracaps could allow more energy to be captured during braking in hybrid vehicles and reused, ultimately helping to improve fuel efficiency. The document notes that in a typical car today, as much as 45 percent of the kinetic energy available during braking goes to waste in the form of heat, since the battery can’t store the energy quickly enough. However, ultracapacitors using EnerG2’s materials could “completely recharge in a matter of minutes rather than hours,” according to the company.
In addition, ultracapacitors “should reduce the cost of the energy storage pack,” because less battery storage will be needed, according to the DOE’s analysis of emission reductions expected to result from the EnerG2 project (included in the Environmental Assessment). Luebbe commented today that the DOE’s investment in the Albany project will accelerate EnerG2’s business model and help resolve the chicken-and-egg problem of advanced energy storage (the need for high-volume production to help drive down prices, and the need for lower prices to help drive demand for higher volumes).
EnerG2 envisions its materials going to work beyond storage for transportation, in consumer electronics, power grid and industrial applications. As CEO Rick Luebbe told us late last year, “Any application that performs better or lasts longer using rapid charge and discharge cycles will benefit from ultracapacitor-based energy storage systems.” In addition, it’s not just ultracapacitors where EnerG2’s materials can be used. Luebbe said today that based on current interest from potential customers, EnerG2 expects battery makers to quickly follow the initial orders from ultracap manufacturers.
Long term, the company’s vision is much grander than that. Luebbe emphasized the need for advanced energy storage systems to “effectively, efficiently time shift energy,” (think electricity from solar power after sundown). “Gasoline is really just an energy storage material,” he said. “We want to start displacing petroleum.”
Image courtesy of EnerG2
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