Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Envia Systems: ARPA-E's Greatest Success To Date?

2012 ARPA-E Technology Showcase
Envia Co-Founder, Sujeet Kumar with A123 Systems' Yet-Ming Chiang
The 2012 ARPA-E Innovation Summit kicked off this week amid ongoing reports of renewable energy's funeral toll and various politically oriented DOE quasi-scandals.   The pressure to deliver a winner is so intense at this time,  DOE recently hired a full time psychologist to deal with the pervasive loss of fingernails (due to biting) among & between staff.   To make matters worse, the Red Phone in the White House has been reprogrammed to ring Arun Majumdar in hopes that something--anything--might emerge as a success this election year.   As everything goes into slow motion, and the buzzer is just about to sound,  Envia Systems has slipped through the crowd to catch ARPA-E's first game winning touchdown.  It is no exaggeration to say this is a very big deal.

1) 400wh/kg
2) Automotive Grade (not a prototype)
3) $150/kwh
4) Validated by US Navy Testing
5) General Motors Funding of $17Mil

This combination of factors seems to be, quite clearly, the exact sort of breakthrough ARPA-E was designed to achieve.   After another round of cycle testing at the Navy's Crane, IN facilities, we should be in a prime position to declare this ARPA-E's greatest victory to date which in turn would be the Department of Energy's greatest victory to date which in turn would be the Obama Administration's greatest victory to date.  Consider the following rationale.

Envia's battery has the ability to create sub $20,000 electric cars (with no range problems even for heavy Americans) which when factored with total cost of ownership and with modest gains in production efficiencies, will make electric cars superior to gas powered vehicles....economically.   As a country, we spend around $1Trillion/year on foreign oil and another $1Trillion on Dept of Defense whose main mission is to protect our energy supply lines.  Eliminating those two misappropriations of US wealth holds the power to restore economic growth and spur innovation unlike anything we have seen to date.  (I know.  It's all very convincing. )

It's no wonder then that A123 Systems founder Yet-Ming Chiang stopped by the Envia booth at the ARPA-E Summit this week to ask a few questions... and congratulate them on their success.   Chiang spent at least 20 minutes with the Envia founders and flipped through the Navy test result report they had on hand.  He was visibly impressed.   So does that mean Envia takes over A123 Systems as the next battery innovator on which people with deep pockets place their hope?    That's not exactly clear since Envia's business model calls for "selling cathode material to cell vendors" such as A123...which would make a lot of sense.  Companies like A123 have invested in production/manufacturing equipment.  Envia doesn't want to go through a ramp cycle like that--they simply want to insert their innovation into existing infrastructure for speed to market.   Yes, this is a glimmer of genuine hope for people who have waited patiently for an American energy storage breakthrough.
Torch Bearers of the Lithium Ion Tradition 

But is it actually a true American success?  Not exactly. The investors to date comprise an international consortium of venture and business concerns including American, Canadian and Japanese companies.  This is an internationally funded company, i.e.,  not a straight play American company.  Even though Envia's headquarters are in Newark, CA, it's manufacturing facility is in Jiaxing, China which raises interesting questions about Envia's intention to actually develop anything substantive in the United States.  It does not appear that they do.  At least not in the Obama Administration sense of creating manufacturing jobs in the United States.  :-(   And finally, as we've stated before, lithium ion solutions will always have a question around the origins of the lithium--most of which is foreign.

So, yes, there is still room to sit around and wait for something better which leaves us to our increasingly lonely practice of speculating about EEStor...and Recapping.    And...?