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Plugin Electrics vs All Electric Battery EVs, Epic Throwdown?

I get this every time I discuss EVs.  Something along the lines of oh, you shouldn’t be including PHEVs in with EVs, they don’t count, or are not real EVs, just a stopgap etc.

I tend to think PHEVs may be better product.  At least for now.  And I follow the GM’s Chevy Volt vs the Nissan Leaf with interest.

The main arguments on each:

Plug in Hybrids

  • No range anxiety
  • Still need gasoline
  • Can fuel up at either electric charging station, your home or gas station
  • Depending on driving patterns, may not need MUCH gasoline at all
  • Expensive because:  need both gasoline and electric systems, and batteries are still pretty expensive, even with a fraction of the amount that’s in an EV
  • Get all the torque and quiet and acceleration punch of an EV without the short range hassle
  • But not really an EV, after a few miles it’s “just a hybrid”
  • Future is just a stop gap until EV batteries get cheap? Or just a better car with all the benes and no cons?

 

Electric Vehicles

  • No gasoline at all (fueled by a mix of 50% coal,20% gas, and the rest nuke and hydro with a little wind 🙂 )
  • Amazing torque and acceleration
  • Dead quiet no emissions
  • Fairly slow to charge compared to gas
  • Lack of charging stations is getting solved, but still somewhat an issue
  • Switching one fuel for another, no extra flexibility on fuel
  • Expensive because lithium ion batteries are still pricey and way a lot
  • Future is cheaper better batteries?  Or they never get there and the future never arrives?

I tend to think the combination of plugins and EVs has actually worked together solved range anxiety.  As a consumer, I get to pick from a full basket when I buy, Leaf, Volt, Prius, Model S, lots of pricey batteries to deal with range anxiety, a plug in that gets me almost there with zero range issues, or a Leaf in between.  Whatever range anxiety I had disappears into consumer choice, just like it should.  I don’t think pure EV is any better or worse than a plugin, just a different choice.  They work together in the fleet, too, plug ins help drive demand for EV charging stations that are critical to electric car success, and EVs drive the cost down on the batteries that brings the plugin costs into line.  Unlike with the Prius over a decade ago, it’s not a single car changing the world, it’s the combination that’s working well for us.

Tesla, First Solar, Better Place and Comments on a Weird Quarter in Cleantech

Wow.  This has been a really interesting few months in cleantech.

First Solar announced a $0.99 cent/Wp target within 4 years for installed with trackers utility scale in its investor deck.  That equates to around $4-5 henry hub gas price in a new combined cycle gas plant.

The scary thing is that best utility scale PV solar is already approaching the $1.50/Wp range in the LAST quarter, equating to $7-8 Henry Hub.

The Top 5 PV manufacturers announced module costs all south of $0.65/Wp.  First Solar says <$0.40/Wp in 4 years. Greentech Media says the best Chinese C-Si plants will do $0.42 within 3 years.  Screw the EU and US dumping  trade wars.  That my friends, is grid parity for a massive swath of the electricity market wholesale AND retail.

These companies are learning to work on GP margins of sub 10%.  They are getting lean, and mean and good.

 

Better Place finally went bust with a whimper.  $850 mm in venture money gone.  As we predicted, battery changing for electric cars is a really bad idea.  But this time, unlike the billion that Solyndra took down, nobody noticed.  Maybe because EVs are being rolled out right and left.

Why was it a bad idea? Well, 1) they would make car companies have to change their fleets, and effectively COMPETES not leverages what the rest of EV and battery world was doing, 2) it implicitly assumes fast charging and better cheaper batteries were not coming, so we needed a work around – meaning if the industry succeeds, Better Place has no advantage, if the industry fails, Better Place has no leverage, a really bad bet for an EV lover, 3) it assumes the costs of the swappable battery car and changing stations were not high, and could come down as fast or faster than conventional EVs and battery technology, 4) it means basically all fillups are full service, which I consider a really dumb idea.  We stopped that in the US in 1980s?

 

Tesla got profitable, sort of.  Announced a positive EBITDA.  Well, ok, but a big loss if you excluded emissions credits that are expected to be a 2013 only event –  about 12% of revenue.  Exclude those and the car manufacturing business had <6% gross profit margins and still loses a lot of money.  But a huge step forward.  Especially as the Model S is now the best selling EV.  Oh, and seriously, even GETTING GPs to positive this fast is a big deal as well as EBITDA positive under ANY circumstances this fast.  Kudos!

This is huge, because as we reported last year, Tesla by itself holds up the venture returns in the cleantech sector.

An analysis of Stifel’s monthly report on EVs and Hybrids shows the Leaf, Volt and Model S making progress, still young and small and choppy sales, but EVs as a group outpacing sales of the HEVs at the same point in their lifecycle.  EVs + HEVs is now consistently at 4% of new US sales. Not half the market, but definitely real.

 

But somehow, nobody’s making much profits.  This industry is looking like profits will always be elusive and come either in the bubbles, or only to the #1 or 2 player.  2013-2014 are looking like set up years for cleantech.  Our prediction? By 2015 NO ONE will question whether cleantech sectors are viable.  It will be about how fast they erode other people’s profits.

Ener1 Takes Stake in Electric Vehicle Maker Think Global

Ener1 (HEV) took the lead among a group of investors that plans to inject $47 million of equity funding into Think Global AS, the Norwegian electric vehicle producer. Ener1 effectively expands its existing 10 percent stake to a 31 percent stake in Think. Ener1 is the parent company of EnerDel, a leading manufacturer of advanced lithium-ion automotive battery systems and an existing supplier to Think.

Ener1 Chairman and CEO Charles Gassenheimer stated, “Ener1 and Think have collaborated for years on systems development, and today possess a unique ability to bring together category-leading technologies in a fully integrated platform, to suit a wide variety of vehicle applications.” Ener1 appears to be pursuing a business model similar to Bosch Automotive and Magna (MGA). Gassenheimer added, “As a key battery supplier and now partner in the production and marketing of electric drivetrain solutions for a range of next-generation vehicles, Ener1 looks forward to a strong future relationship with this industry leader.”

EnerDel and Think have also agreed to enter into a new long-term battery supply agreement as part of the transaction. EnerDel will receive certain exclusivity rights for the supply of lithium manganese titanate batteries for Think’s current and upcoming new vehicle models.

“This investment cements our partnership with one of the leading advanced battery manufacturers in the world,” said Think CEO Richard Canny. “In addition to ensuring supply of high-performance battery systems, the new deal will enable us to more fully capitalize on our advantage in the marketplace with the only ‘plug-and-play’ electric vehicle drive system with prismatic lithium-ion technology.”

Ener1 develops and manufactures compact, high performance lithium-ion batteries to power the next generation of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric vehicles. In addition to the automobile market, applications for Ener1 lithium-ion battery technology include the military, grid storage and other growing markets.

Ener1 also develops commercial fuel cell products through its EnerFuel subsidiary and nanotechnology-based materials and manufacturing processes for batteries and other applications through its NanoEner subsidiary.

Think is a pioneer in electric vehicles, and a leader in electric vehicle technology, developed and proven over 19 years. Think is also a leader in electric drive-system technology, and was the first to market a ‘plug and play’ mobility solution in the business-to-business sector.

The equity funding allows financially struggling Think to exit court protection and resume normal operations with the production of the ready-to-market TH!NK City.
Also participating in Think’s restructuring is Valmet Automotive, a provider of automotive engineering and manufacturing services of premium cars. In 40 years the company has produced over 1,100,000 high-quality vehicles in Finland. Valmet Automotive manufactures Porsche Boxster and Porsche Cayman for Porsche AG. The manufacturing of Fisker Karma hybrid vehicle starts in 2009. The company is a part of Metso.

Diversifying into system integration around a technology platform is an intelligent strategy for Ener 1 who faces tough competition from battery giants who have joint ventures and strategic relationships with major auto makers. Competition includes Panasonic, Hitachi, NEC, LG Chem, and Johnson Controls-Saft.

By John Addison. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.

Blogroll Review: Credits, Charging, Coffee

by Frank Ling

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Many of us use credit cards to collect mileage point and other non-monetary credits. Now, we can use it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

GE is introducing the Earth Rewards Credit Card, which will invest 1% of customer purchases into carbon off-setting.

Joel Makower says developing the system was not straightforward. Initially, GE thought of creating credits, which customers could use to buy eco-friendly products. However, it was found that very few people would actually do that.

It remains to be seen whether this current scheme will work but GE is optimistic.

“It’s too early to tell, of course, but Earth Rewards has the potential to catch on with the large middle market increasingly concerned about climate change but willing to make only small, incremental changes, if that. (GE envisions a potential market of 25 million Americans.)”

Priceless! 😉

Charge It

Plug-In hybrids are no longer a hobbyist’s contraption. Toyota has released the first certified PHEV for public road use.

Though it is only limited to Japan, the PHEV can run on household power and uses NiMH battery technology. Jim Fraser at the Energy Blog notes:

“The PHEV is a 5 passenger vehicle with a cruising range of 8 miles (13 km) in the all electric mode with a top speed of 60 mph (100 km/hr). It is equipped with 2 – 6.5Ah nickel-metal hydride batteries powering a 67hp (50kW)/1,200-1,540 rpm synchronous electric motor with a maximum torque of 400N-m(40.8kg-m) @ 0-1,200rpm….Charging time for the battery is 1-1.5hrs @ 200V and 3-4hrs @ 100V.”

Maybe this time, the electric car won’t be killed. 🙂

Sunbucks

Back a couple years ago when I wandered around China, there were many Starbucks ripoffs. One of them was called Sunbucks. If that trademark hasn’t been taken, then this company may still have a chance to take it.

In this week’s EcoGeek, Philip Proefrock writes about a Pueblo, Colorado company that is roasting their coffee with the power of the sun.

“The Solar Roast company uses a 10 foot (3 meter) diameter reflector array to heat its roaster to 600 degrees F (315 degrees C) with nothing more than sunlight.”

Frank Ling is a postdoctoral fellow at the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) at UC Berkeley. He is also a producer of the Berkeley Groks Science Show.

Could Solvent-Free Manufacturing Technology Help Make Lithium Polymer Batteries a Reality?

I had a chance to chat with Dr. Klaus Brandt, EVP of Lithium Technology Corporation (Ticker symbol LTHU.PK). LTC has been in the business of Lion battery development for over 10 years. They are focused on large energy content / high power applications, primarily using lithium polymer technologies.

The Company was formed 4 years ago through a merger of a German battery startup called and LTC. Dr. Brandt is the Executive Vice President of LTC and Managing Director of their GAIA GmbH subsidiary, joining GAIA in April, 2005. A 25 year battery industry veteran, Gaia is his 5th battery company. He previously worked for Duracell (US) and VARTA (Germany), Moli Energy & Ionity. He holds a PhD, Physics from Tech Inst of Munich.

They haven’t disclosed much on their customers, but are focused on the military markets (especially for unmanned vehicles, like UAVs, they have one announced participation with Phoenix), and in niche industrial markets like robotics. The holy grail opportunity, of course is the EV, HEV and Plug-in hybrid automotive markets, where LiOn technology has an opportunity to displace NiMh, if it can drive costs down far enough. So far LTC has been working on early demonstrator projects in this area, but doesn’t appear to have hit the big one yet.

A quote from a recent press release on some of LTC’s activities in the plug-in hybrid sector.

“LTC has powered a project in conjunction with Innosys Engineering in which a four passenger Daihatsu Cuore was converted into an electric car using the lithium-ion batteries and a three-phase asynchronous electric motor. The battery, built with cells manufactured by LTC subsidiary GAIA, has a capacity of 25 kWh and an approximate highway range of 180-200km (100-125 miles) at 90-100km/hr (56-60 mph). These results are similar to the expected performance of the recently announced Volt slated to be made available by General Motors in 2010. “The technology is here today. LTC has it, and we’ve demonstrated it,” says Dr. Brandt. “Price is the biggest factor holding back the production of these more environmentally friendly, fuel efficient vehicles. By committing to work together, the auto manufactures and battery companies can bring the cost down and make cars like the Volt an affordable reality for the consumer.” LTC’s technology was recently highlighted in a video produced by Plug-In Partners, a national grass-roots initiative to demonstrate to automakers that a market for flexible-fuel PHEVs exists today. The full video discussing the economic and environmental benefits of PHEVs can be viewed on the Plug-In Partners website.

The piece featured a project in which LTC provided cells to the University of California, Davis Hybrid Electric Vehicle Group for the conversion of a Chevy Equinox to a PHEV as part of the Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility engineering competition. The lithium-ion battery has the same capacity as the original metal hydride battery but with half the weight. The battery can be charged by either the internal combustion engine (ICE) or a standard AC household electrical socket and can drive over 40 miles on the overnight electrical charge. The converted vehicle has a fuel economy of 36 mpg in the city, and 38 mpg on the highway, as compared to the original Chevy Equinox range of 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.”

As a result of the merger with Gaia, Arch Hill Ventures, NV, the venture capital firm behind Gaia, now has a dominant stake in the company. I couldn’t find much information on Arch easily available, though.

The company trades over the counter in the US, and has struggled financially (revenues are around $2 mm/year), and it loses money, and the stock price for the last several years has reflected this. Of course, it doesn’t help that the company doesn’t seem to have filed a 10-K or 10-Q since May of 2006. In December the company earned a reprieve raised $3 mm in a Series C Preferred Stock at a valuation on the order of $23 mm, and converted about $2.4 mm in debt.

In Germany the company is manufacturing cylindrical cells, and packaging them into batteries, and doing some prod development, along with EU sales. In the US Dr. Bradnt says they do a limited production of flat cells, the US sales and marketing, as well engineering and assembly of batteries for American customers.

But aside from all that, I asked Dr. Brandt to give me a summary walk through of the technology, what makes it neat, and what the cost and performance advantages are.

The brief from their website:

“LTC’s unique technology allows for the production of very large cells with a high capacity and high power capability.

LTC’s wholly owed affiliate GAIA Akkumulatorenwerke in Nordhausen, Germany employs a unique patented extrusion process for producing electrodes for lithium ion cells. This process is environmentally friendly (no solvent) and eliminates the need for expensive explosion proof coating and solvent recovery equipment. Using high speed winding and a unique assembly technology, large cylindrical cells are manufactured. In our Plymouth Meeting facility, we have the capability to build large footprint flat cells and stack them to form large batteries. Our proprietary technology includes critical composition, processing, and packaging aspects of the battery. Our coating, lamination and extrusion know-how enables us to achieve uniformity and consistency through a range of application techniques. Batteries for the consumer, transportation, and industrial markets require different electro-chemical systems that we believe can be easily accommodated by our extrusion process.”

According to my conversation with Dr. Brandt, LTC has two core technologies. The first is this extrusion process for a part of the cell manufacturing for either LiOn or Lithium Polymer batteries. The uniqueness is a way to avoid the use of large amounts of solvents in the process of manufacturing electrodes from electrode powders.

Normally, you make electrodes by a coating process. Taking electrode powders and mixing them in an organic solvent with has a binder and any additives dissolved in it. This results in a fairly viscous slurry with typically more than half organic solvents . Then battery manufacturers typically use a coating process (usually a printing type roller process or some sort of foil through narrow slit, controlling deposition quality mechanically) to coat the slurry onto a current collector, usually a thin metal foil, and in a post process step heat the electrode to evaporate the solvent, which by volume is often greater than the active material.
Typically the make-up of the solvents used is key intellectual property for the battery manufacturer, but most are highly volatile and toxic chemicals, and need to be recycled in some sort of a closed loop system that is generally equipment and energy intensive (read costly, and not very green).

The LTC process is different. LTC runs an extrusion process as follows – make the electrode powders into mixture of powder materials directly with a special polymer binder, which flows under some pressure and temperature, and extrude the mixture into a film sheet. The process runs in the range from 200-300F up to 350-400F, and uses off the shelf plastic extrusion equipment. As second step, LTC then laminates the film to the foil. The lamination allows good control of all kinds of properties. The whole thing is roughly similar to low temperature polymer membrane construction process.

The trick is the mix of the polymers. If mix isn’t right you can’t keep mechanical consistency or can’t control thickness of the film and uniform distribution of the components. The polymer mix also affects the binding properties.

They claim the process does not really affect the cell manufacturing or the electrolyte relative to other processes. And Dr. Brandt says it has applicability for lithium ion as well as lithium polymer.

The advantage – no solvent extraction, cleaning, and recycling process equipment, and reduced energy use. Basically a more efficient, greener, cleaner process. LTC estimates their process can reduce a cost structure on the order of 5-10% improvement over conventional technology, a big improvement in battery manufacturing techniques.

The main challenges are those similar to all lithium ion and lithium polymer battery manufacturers. In the area of automotive and HEVs, they need to address cost. Scale of production is obviously a main cost down concern for LTC at this point, but materials costs are a close second. Like all lithium polymer technologies, the materials in general are still quite high.

On the performance side, Dr. Brandt walked through another interesting technology development.

They are able to build relatively large systems at a similar power density and power rate to smaller systems compared to other manufacturers, especially useful in areas like submarine and UAV batteries.

They also get high power and excellent charge/discharge rates – on some cell types up to 80% of the energy in 2 – 3 minutes.

The trick here is LTC’s technology to manage the thermal issues in the way they make the electrical connections between electrodes and terminals in the wound cells. LTC essentially makes electrical connections at every turn of a wound cell, directly connecting each cell to the terminal, using massive (relatively) terminals. They do it with a special trick they have developed to easily allow a large number of the multiple connections.

All in all, a fascinating story. One I will have to follow closely and see how well the company pulls through its recent financial straits.

Author Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is the founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, and a Contributing Editor to AltEnergyStocks.com.