Was Tesla Motor’s CEO Elon Musk on the right track when he said he’d bet on capacitors over batteries for the future of electric cars? A group of high-profile investors — including GE, NRG Energy, ConocoPhillips, Braemer Energy Ventures, Alstom, and Schneider Electric — seem to think so and have backed ultracapacitor startup Ioxus with $21 million. (GE’s Managing Director of its VC arm, Kevin Skillern, will be speaking at our Green:Net event next week).
Ultracapacitors are energy storage devices that can deliver quick bursts of intense power and withstand more charge and discharge cycles than batteries. The technology is less established; the costs are higher than batteries; and much of the opportunity right now lies in niche markets. They also aren’t talked about much in greentech circles, but one of the industry leaders is Maxwell (and a more controversial company is EEStor).
I reported on Ioxus’ funding round last month, as presented in an SEC filing, and back then, the company had raised $12 million of a planned $18 million round. I also didn’t know then that Ioxus had built up such an extensive list of investors. The entire funding list includes: Energy Technology Ventures (the GE-NRG Energy-ConocoPhillips joint venture), Northwater Capital through its Northwater Intellectual Property Fund, Aster Capital (representing Alstom, Schneider Electric and Rhodia) and Braemar Energy Ventures.
For automakers and OEMs looking to buy energy storage devices, ultracapacitors are often seen as being in competition with batteries. But Ioxus has developed a sort of hybrid battery, ultracapacitor technology, and thinks the storage devices should be used in tandem. As Ioxus COO Chad Hall explained to us in late 2009, “Ultracapacitors are not looking to replace batteries in the acceleration or main storage of a car – they are merely there to enhance the battery, make it last longer, and reduce the warranty issues related to replacing large batteries.”
Used in conjunction with batteries, ultracaps could also help make vehicle-to-grid technology more feasible, allowing electric cars to provide on-demand energy for the power grid without cutting battery life short. Hall explained, “Ultracapacitors are a power component. Batteries are an energy component. Marry two technologies together, and you have a solution that works well.”
Ioxus says it will use this funding to develop its technology and expand sales, marketing and manufacturing.