Highlands Power Making Waves in Clean Mobility

Highlands Power Making Waves in Clean Mobility

What is the most delicious electric motor in the world?  It could be the “pancake”. Also known as the Axial Flux Motor, it is considered the most efficient and powerful types of electric motor, but also one of the hardest to successfully build. Building an axial flux motor that is incredibly powerful as well as easily manufactured is a tall order, but Highlands Power is looking to develop just such a motor here in Sacramento.

The Axial Flux Motor Highlands is looking to produce is different from the traditional Radial flux motor in that the Magnetic Flux travels parallel to the axis of rotation as opposed to out from the center.  What does that mean for the the measurables of the motor? It means much less weight and a more compact motor (“flat as a pancake”) compared to the much heavier conventional motor. It also means more efficiency and in electric transportation, efficiency is king.

There is nothing particularly new about the idea of an axial flux, pancake motor.  What Highlands has done is to make one out of lightweight materials that can deliver surprisingly high torque, eliminating the need for a gearbox. Called the S-ONE, Highlands’ motor delivers a much better torque-to-weight ratio than current production motors. In addition, the motor is stackable, meaning if more power is needed units can be ganged together to generate as much power and torque as the vehicle needs. It is designed to be relatively low cost as well. This versatility is the cornerstone of Highlands’ plan and believes it is the key to developing more affordable electric vehicles.

The S-ONE uses an entirely new new motor layout, cooling system and manufacturing process to produce 3-4x the torque of current drivetrain motors without increasing size, weight or cost. All this performance is held in an all-composite, shock resistant housing that helps the S-ONE withstand the toughest environments on and off road. These advancements in motor technology can significantly reduce the cost of an electric vehicle and make EVs more accessible to mass market consumers.

Connor Whaley

CTO, Highlands Power

Conner Whaley, CTO of Highlands has been aggressively pursuing building this motor  for the past several years. Now, Highlands is refining the S-ONE to be ready for production and scale in the near future. At this point, more than ten automotive suppliers and OEMs are awaiting one of the 25 third-generation prototype motors to be built by Highlands for benchtop and in-vehicle testing. We look forward to hearing more as they grow and push the electiric transportation revolution forward. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas is the Executive Director of CleanStart. Thomas has a strong background in supporting small businesses, leadership, financial management and is proficient in working with nonprofits. He has a BS in Finance and a BA in Economics from California State University, Chico. Thomas has a passion for sustainability and a commitment to supporting non-profits in the region.

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EPIC Symposium Highlights Directions for Future Contract Funding from CEC

EPIC Symposium Highlights Directions for Future Contract Funding from CEC

On Tuesday Feb. 19, the California Energy Commission held its annual showcase for the technologies and studies it has funded under its Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC).  EPIC raises about $160 million in funding each year and the CEC uses it to fund early startups (CalSEED), emerging technologies and creative solutions, as well as fostering energy entrepreneurs through business accelerator programs, the most well-known of which is the CleanTech Open – West.  The Symposium featured 15 panel sessions with 60 or so speakers and 35 exhibits from teams funded by EPIC.

Because many of the sessions were running concurrently, we couldn’t get to all of them, but here are some of the most interesting ideas we heard that may drive future EPIC funding solicitations and create business opportunities for you.

  • Broadening storage technologies beyond lithium ion batteries.  The recurrence of fires at large-scale lithium ion battery installations is raising concerns whether these are safe enough.  This concern is driving a look into other solutions–vanadium flow batteries, zinc-water batteries, high temp sulfur batteries, concentrated solar thermal integrated with thermal storage.  But there are more options that were not discussed–kinetic energy storage systems (flywheels), other battery chemistries–that keep the door open for more creativity in this area. One speaker offered the view that we may be just at the edge of a big price drop in storage technology driven by technology maturity and volume production, similar to what happened in solar PV, which may result in a lot more interest in storage of all types.

     

  • Non-battery solutions for matching renewables to demand.  The traditional approach to this problem has been to match supply to a variable demand, and emphasizes storage.  But what if one could turn this on its head and match demand to a variable supply through sophisticated demand management.  One speaker put it this way: “The smarter the grid, the less storage required”. Adding millions of points of control and a very smart management apps might do this.  But how much control would users be willing to surrender? How invisible could someone make it? Is there a way to simplify this approach?

     

  • Getting more from managing the charging of electric vehicles.  There must be at least three dozen entrepreneurs chasing this idea nationwide, most of which seem to be in California.  It could have larger implications for controlling load to avoid the need for storage, as noted above. How much infrastructure could be avoided if charging were better managed?   As the number of electric vehicles become dominant in California, how can complications of congestion at popular charging locations be dealt with? How can we move consumers from the mindset of “filling a tank” for a week of driving to just charging for what they immediately need? Can smaller cheaper level 2 chargers meet demand?   While there are many teams chasing this problem, there still seems room for more.

     

  • Making the energy revolution benefit underserved communities.  This topic has been receiving growing attention over the last two decades. . It seems to be as much about mobilizing underserved communities as it is about new technology. When asked projects and grant recipients acknowledged they struggled to connect with underserved groups. Promoting equitable growth was stressed in most if not all talks.  If you are looking for a demo project, the CEC is launching a tool to help you find an underserved community in which to put it and put some money behind it. They are also soliciting feedback from groups. Do you have a demo that can benefit community groups or are you a community group that has a clean tech need?
  • All of the solutions have a similar issue with adoption is they require behavior change. While we are used to energy on demand, it is not the most efficient or cost effective model. Incorporating AI that engages consumers to accommodate for future demand was identified as important for Electric Vehicle charging and Vehicle to Grid incorporation, grid management of all sizes, storage use, and building efficiency. How do we accelerate adoption faster and overcome human behavior? Do we use a stick and carrot approach, hand over energy control to AI,  or something else?

     

The CEC will be issuing new solicitations from the EPIC funding and other money it receives to advance clean fuels and alternative transportation.  If you want to get timely alerts, be sure to add your name to their notification list.

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thomas is the Executive Director of CleanStart. Thomas has a strong background in supporting small businesses, leadership, financial management and is proficient in working with nonprofits. He has a BS in Finance and a BA in Economics from California State University, Chico. Thomas has a passion for sustainability and a commitment to supporting non-profits in the region.

Crowdfunding on WeFunder Pretty Good for Investors and Startups

Crowdfunding on WeFunder Pretty Good for Investors and Startups

We have occasionally mentioned crowdfunding as a new option for raising early funding for cleantech startups.  One of the more popular sites (WeFunder) has just published its results, and they may surprise many.  Over the period 2013-16, 119 companies attempted crowdfunding, and 98 succeeded.  If an investor put  $25,000 in equity into each of the 98, that $2,450,000 investment would have grown to $9,569,549 by now, based on estimated increased valuations either from subsequent funding events or comps.  That’s a 3.9X multiple in this hypothetical.  Eleven of these companies are now valued at over $100 million each.  The group raised $2.2 billion in follow-on funding, with 40% raising over $3 million each in their Series A rounds.  Most of the 98 were software- or computer-related.  There were two cleantech investments which grew more slowly than the average. 

While the results may not be spectacular, they actually were better than the averages achieved by the top quartile of all VC firms.  These data indicate that crwodfunding, done well, could be a viable fundraising and investment option.

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Simon is the Chair of CleanStarts Board. A seasoned energy executive and entrepreneur with 45 years of experience in business, government, and non-profits.


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