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AI interview with Atul Kapadia, chairman and CEO of Envia Systems

Lithium-ion energy storage solutions provider Envia Systems unveiled its breakthrough 400 watt-hour/kilogram (Wh/kg) lithium-ion battery at the Advanced Research Products Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) Innovation Summit held at Washington DC from February 27th to the 29th, 2012. The company announced its test results that verify the company’s next-gen rechargeable battery that has achieved the highest recorded energy density of 400 Wh/kg for a rechargeable lithium-ion cell. When commercialized, this 400 Wh/kg battery is expected to slash the price of a 300-mile range electric vehicle (EV) by cutting the cost of the battery pack by more than 50 per cent.

“In an industry where energy density tends to increase five percent a year, our achievement of more than doubling state-of-art energy density and lowering cost by half is a giant step towards realizing Envia’s mission of mass market affordability of a 300-mile electric vehicle,” said Atul Kapadia, chairman and CEO of Envia Systems in a company release.

Added Sujeet Kumar, Co-founder, president and CTO of Envia Systems in the same company statement: “Since the inception of Envia, our product team has worked tirelessly and logged over 25 million test channel hours to optimally develop each of the active components of the battery: Envia’s proprietary Si-C anode, HCMR (High Capacity Manganese Rich) cathode and EHV electrolyte. Rather than just a proof-of-concept of energy density, I am pleased that our team was successful in actually delivering 400 Wh/kg automotive grade 45 Ah lithium-ion rechargeable cells.”

The testing of Envia’s next-gen lithium-ion battery was performed by the Electrochemical Power Systems Department at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Crane, Indiana under the sponsorship of ARPA-E. Tests at various cycling rates at NSWC confirmed that Envia’s automotive battery cell demonstrated energy density between 378-418 Wh/kg for rates between C/3 to C/10 for a 45 Amp-hour (C/3) cell. NSWC will also test these cells to validate cycling performance.

“Envia’s new battery technology represents exactly the kind of innovation and breakthroughs that ARPA-E is looking for from the American research and development community,” said Arun Majumdar, director of ARPA-E. “We hope that this low cost and high density battery technology enables widespread adoption of electric vehicles across the country and around the world.”

The announcement is significant to automakers, public policy decision makers and consumers alike.

• For automakers, the widespread adoption of EV’s hinges on two key factors: safety and the ability to overcome “range anxiety” among consumers. Envia’s achievement addresses both issues head on.

• For public policy wonks pushing the need for EV’s that will reestablish American global competitiveness, Envia’s technical breakthrough supports mainstream—as opposed to “exotic” and expensive—manufacturing processes that will drive down EV costs dramatically.

• And for consumers, the trifecta of low cost, significant range between charges and heightened safety are speed bumps that must be eliminated before widespread adoption becomes a reality.

The Newark, California headquartered Envia Systems was founded in July 2007. While the company’s headquarters house its materials innovation lab and a pilot production facility for the fabrication of battery materials, its cell prototyping and manufacturing plant is located in Jiaxing, China. The company’s management team has decades of experience in lithium battery development and manufacturing, which it has leveraged to develop its patented nanocomposite technology that enables its batteries to deliver previously unattainable levels of energy capacity, safety and life.

Rooted in materials innovation, Envia has quickly built an R&D team and an IP portfolio that is a cornerstone to future energy storage products. A Lux Research article titled: “Ranking Li-ion battery developers on Lux Innovation Grid“, September 2011, ranks Li-ion industry participants on a scale of technical value and business execution. Envia Systems fared quite well in that ranking, says the company.

“The company continues to quickly innovate new materials with the goal of building energy storage systems with the highest energy density and the lowest cost materials. This enables Envia to deliver its value proposition – lowest weight, lowest cost, long cycle life and extremely safe energy storage products. The company has a strong IP portfolio, with over 20 patents filed, and many more in the pipeline,” says Envia Systems.

In 2011 General Motors Ventures LLC invested USD 7 million in Envia Systems to provide GM’s battery engineering team access to Envia’s advanced lithium-ion cathode technology that delivers higher cell energy density and lower cost. In another agreement, GM secured the right to use Envia’s advanced cathode material for future GM electrically driven vehicles. Other partners in Envia include Asahi Kasei, Asahi Glass, ARPA-E and DOE. Investors also include Bay Partners, Redpoint and Panagea Ventures.

“Skeptics have suggested it would probably be many years before lithium-ion batteries with significantly lower cost and higher capability are available, potentially limiting sales of electric vehicles for the foreseeable future,” said Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures in a press release in January 2011. “In fact, our announcement today demonstrates that major improvements are already on the horizon.”

GM Ventures’ optimism seems to have been justified with Envia’s recently announced test results of its 400 Wh/kg battery.

Automotive Industries spoke to Atul Kapadia, chairman and CEO of Envia Systems.

AI: Tell us about the new cathode design for li-ion batteries which you call the High Capacity Manganese Rich or HCMR cathode.

Our HCMR family of cathode that has been under development since 2008 is based on a layered-layered lithium rich structure. The specific compositions we have designed have twice the capacity of the existing consumer-oriented chemistries. Thus it greatly reduces $/kWh for batteries. HCMR is manganese-rich and so it is also cheaper to make and offers a lower $/kg.

AI: What impact do you think your 400 Wh/kg battery will have on the EV market?

The 400Wh/kg at $125-$150/kWh (cell level) breakthrough should enable an affordable higher mileage EV. Envia’s aspiration is to have 8-10% of the cars on the road electric driven by 2018. The only way to achieve this bold goal is to bring the prices down dramatically. With our 400 Wh/kg battery, we take a double punch at the costs – more then twice the energy density means you need half the active material in the battery (lowering cost of material) and Mn-rich material means its cheaper to make.

AI: How do you think your new, improved and cost-effective battery will impact prices of EVs?

Mission is to make electric cars mass affordable. We think that components of our 400 Wh/kg battery will cut the prices of pack of a 300-mile electric car by half.

AI: What are some of the breakthroughs Envia has made in other aspects of battery making – such as anode design and electrolyte materials?

The first breakthrough Envia made was in the cathode material HCMR (as described above). Secondly, Envia has made critical breakthroughs in anode and electrolyte materials. Envia’s anode is a Si-C composite of >1500mAh/g capacity that cycles & continues to cycle >450 cycles (and counting) when used at automotive grade loading levels (>5 mg/cm2). The anode manufacturing process is also a low-cost process, very important for automotive. Envia’s proprietary electrolyte is a high voltage electrolyte that is stable up to 5.2V (vs. Li/Li+). Standard electrolytes used in automotive are stable only up to 4.5V. That works well with the current low capacity, low voltage cathodes used in batteries today. However, with Envia’s high capacity, high voltage cathode, the cell requires an electrolyte that is stable at higher voltages.

AI: What time frame are do you anticipate for the commercialization of the battery?
Envia’s 45Ah cells have cycled 450 cycles and are still going. Demonstrating cycling and energy density in a 45Ah cell as opposed to coin cells and extrapolating shows the technology is real.

We are currently going through qualification cycles of our cathode with OEMs and cell makers and the cathode is 1.5-2 years away. The anode is 2-3 years behind the cathode. The entire cell is 4-5 years away. This is mainly a function of the different phases of testing done at the OEM-level before the product is on the road.

AI: How do you rate your 400 Wh/kg battery technology with others such as PolyPlus Battery Company which claims lithium metal/aqueous batteries with unprecedented energy density?

We view integration of energy storage technologies in cars as an evolutionary process not a revolutionary process. While Envia’s 400 Wh/kg may seem like a revolution in terms of performance, it is only an evolution in terms of risk. Envia’s technology is a low risk proposition for an automotive OEM – they already work with Li-ion batteries.
It is difficult for us to see how automobile OEM’s will take seriously cute futuristic technologies which may or may not be needed if automotive OEMs can find profitability with Li-ion batteries. We all keep an eye on these technologies but the rumors of the demise of Li-ion batteries are greatly exaggerated by venture capitalists who are pouring capital in science projects without understanding automotive requirements.

AI: What kind of role has ARPA-E played in Envia – how has the organization and others such as General Motors supported your company?

General Motors is an investor in the company. ARPA-E funded the Si-C anode development, which was key to achieve the 400Wh/kg milestone.

We are thankful to General Motors for their timely investment in Envia in December 2010 and thankful to ARPA-E for their timely assistance of $4M in December 2009.

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