EV Innovation Right in Our Backyard

EV Innovation Right in Our Backyard

On September 27, we held an in-person MeetUp at the California Auto Museum with three speakers talking about their work in manufacturing vehicles and improving their designs from bases here in our region.  

First to speak was Jacob Panachaveettil, an engineer with Motiv Systems talking about their installation of electric drivetrains in medium duty 2-6 ton payload delivery trucks, buses and specialty vehicles.  These are good applications for electric drive, because the stop-and-start driving provides opportunities for regenerative braking to extend the range.   Motiv creates packaged systems to drop into the chassis of OEMs which they call EPIC (Electric Powered Intelligent Chassis).  They have installed systems in over 200 trucks and buses.  The current generation of their products has been demonstrated to have a range of 150 miles, which means delivery drivers can make all their deliveries in a shift without the need to get a charge along the way. Upgrades to 200 miles of range are coming.  Motiv has extended its offerings to provide a charging solution and fleet maintenance service, providing an end-to-end solution for customers.  They can also help customers get the point-of-sale discounts offered through the HVIP program of CARB.  These vouchers are typically worth $60-80,000 for the purchase of new electric drive trucks.  

Motiv EPIC F-59 Chassis WTSMotiv was founded in 2009, in part motivated by action by CARB that same year to require companies with California to implement EV solutions to replace fossil-fueled engines by 2031.  Interest in conversions has spread well beyond California, so Motiv is well-positioned as a leader in perfecting this technology.  In 2012 it had a contract to convert garbage trucks to electric drive in Chicago and multiple contracts to provide electric school buses.

Jacob talked about future plans to develop a Motiv line of electric trucks designed from the ground up to make maximum use of the benefits of the drive train, and also plans to look ahead to the big Class 7 and 8 long-haul trucks.  But he also noted a need to focus on scale economies for standard products to get to lead a push for less costly conversions.

Motiv is a private company and according to Crunchbase has 101-250 employees.  Most of those are in its factory in Hayward for now, but Motiv opened a fleet service center in Stockton and is considering its expansion options.  Earlier this year it raised $30 million in a C round.

Chris Nitta, and Associate Professor at UC Davis, talked about the pioneering work done by Prof. Andy Frank on hybrid electric drives and several other innovations now included in commercial EVs.  In fact Chris was one of those graduate students, and is now carrying on the work after Prof. Frank retired. This group launched Efficient Drivetrains, Inc., in Dixon, to commercialize its innovations which was then acquired by Cummins in 2018 and moved to Fremont.  Chris explained that with Prof. Frank’s departure, the intensity of work at UCD on electric vehicle innovation slowed, with no teams participating in the DOE advanced vehicle challenges for a while.  

UC Davis members at the EcoCAR EV Challenge launch event in Washington D.C. Left to right: MAE Ph.D. student Mohammad Abtahi, CS Associate Professor of Teaching Chris Nitta, PH&EV Program Manager Dahlia Garas. (Photo: U.S. Department of Energy)

UC Davis members at the EcoCAR EV Challenge launch event in Washington D.C. Left to right: MAE Ph.D. student Mohammad Abtahi, CS Associate Professor of Teaching Chris Nitta, PH&EV Program Manager Dahlia Garas. (Photo: U.S. Department of Energy)

 

But all that has changed and once again UCD will field a strong team in the latest EcoCar Challenge.  Details are not known yet, but according to the website all 15 university teams will be provided a 2023 all-electric Cadillac LYRIQ – which they have four years to demonstrate the potential of advanced propulsion systems, connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technologies, and other innovative technologies to analyze energy efficiency.  EcoCAR teams will utilize a combination of on-board sensors and bidirectional vehicle-to-everything (V2X) connectivity to implement energy efficient and customer-pleasing automated control features. Teams also will refine advanced powertrain along with charging and thermal systems to use grid electricity intelligently.  

Mark Doerfer, COO of PEM Motion USA (headquartered here in Sacramento) talked about what they are looking to do to help those that want to design new unique EVs, to ramp up manufacturing processes,  to help on innovation ecosystems across the globe, and to advance the state of the technology in battery manufacturing and recycling. Mark noted that they now have operations in the manufacturing hub of San Luis Potosi in Mexico, in the US Midwest, and in Orange County, CA.  He said they view the importance of being in Sacramento as being close to the forefront of where new policies will be created that will drive innovation in EVs.  He also mentioned their interest in software for autonomous driven vehicles. 

After the presentations, we had an interesting panel discussion on what the future may hold for EV innovation.  All three saw a revolution in vehicle ownership enabled by the rise of reliable autonomous driving software.  People could change their minds about owning multiple vehicles if a car could be called up on demand if a primary vehicle is not available or not suited to the task.  Even long distance trips might be handled better at high speed on dedicated highway lanes with autonomous vehicles that could “platoon” or travel in compact “bunches”, lowering drag from air resistance.  They also noted that the existing vehicle population is poorly used.  Most sit parked, most of the time.  That’s a lot of ownership expense, especially when one rolls in annual taxes and insurance.  

A second topic was how the charging system may evolve to handle the new EV population, with charging that is more under control of grid operators than individual car owners.  

The session was recorded and is available here [LINK] if you are interested.  Importantly we want to give a big thanks to the California Auto Museum which is one of those hidden gems in Sacramento.  If you have never visited it, you should.  The collection has been growing and right now there is a special exhibit on the evolution of electric vehicles.  If you decide to go, be sure to use your GPS device.  It is not the easiest location to find.

IRA is an Investment in Battery Innovation

IRA is an Investment in Battery Innovation

Among many things, the inflation reduction act (IRA) is a big investment into our domestic battery production.  To get the details, you can read about the IRA from Moss Adams here. 

Here is what has us the most excited:

  • The establishment of a $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund for the Environmental Protection Agency to allocate towards emissions reductions projects. 
  • $250 Billion in Energy Infrastructure Loan Guarantees
  • $40 Billion in Clean Energy Loan Guarantees
  • The multitude of guarantees and incentives to build domestic battery capacity

We will cover more later, but right now I want to highlight how the EV incentive may drive investment and innovation in domestic battery production. The requirements for batteries in EVs lead to increasing investment in innovation. There are two parts.

  1. Battery materials must be sourced in the United States or a country that has a free trader agreement with the United States.
  2. Batteries must be assembled in the United States, Canada, or Mexico. 

This will limit what Electric Vehicles qualify for the incentive, but it won’t eliminate them

Batteries qualify by having a certain percentage (escalating over time) meet the requirements. There is no clarity on the requirements currently. Everyone is waiting on the Department of Transportation and the Treasury to make the final rules. Whatever they end up being, there is likely not enough capacity for materials and assembly to meet the potential demand. With high demand and shortages of materials, there will be investment to expand supply and innovation to increase efficiency/ reduce cost. Innovation in battery design and manufacturing should boom. The IRA is providing over $100 Billion in loans to speed up the transition. 

We have talked about Battery Advancements in the past. Now, we hope to see these advancements make it to the practical world.

New battery design, and chemistry are where I am excited about innovation. So far in the US there have been over% 15 Billion committed to building domestic capacity.  PEM Motion has a good Battery Atlas for Europe here. Over the past year, there were major investments by vehicle OEMs Tesla, Toyota, GM, Ford, and VW to build domestic battery capacity. They are partnering with major battery companies like SK Industrials, and LG Chem, who are also building plants of their own. Most analysts think this is not enough and we may need up to $100 Billion in battery manufacturing. With that amount of investment, slight improvements in battery design and manufacturing go a long way. Even with two Giga factories, Tesla is looking at investing $10 Billion more to keep their advantage.  

While the energy transition increases demand for storage, the investment from the IRA should get us ahead, increasing competition and building needed capacity.

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.

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | Tobin, Moss Adams GreenbergTraurig

BlueTech Valley, PowerSoft.biz, Revrnt, Synbyo, Califronia Mobility Center

LiCAP Technologies Developing a Game-Changing Electrode Material

LiCAP Technologies Developing a Game-Changing Electrode Material

A Rancho Cordova-based innovator is poised to make a big contribution to lowering lithium ion battery costs and improving their performance.  LiCAP Technologies is working on an “activated dry electrode” that is significantly better than the wet slurries now used.  Wet coating is energy-intensive, time consuming, and uses a highly toxic solvent, plus it creates a fair amount of waste.  LiCAP is addressing all those flaws and getting lots of attention from an industry looking for a better technology.

LiCAP’s CEO Linda Zhong left ultra-capacitor manufacturer Maxwell Technologies in 2011 to pursue her ideas for dry electrodes.  Her first venture was EnerTrode in Hayward, and in 2016 that morphed into LiCAP when she moved to Sacramento.   Her goal is to revolutionize the fabrication of batteries at dramatically lower costs.  Almost half of the energy needs for a Giga-scale battery manufacturing plant are associated with the industry-standard electrode manufacturing methods.  Zhong is convinced her innovation could do much better.

However, in order to get a revenue stream started as soon as possible, LiCAP started with the manufacture of ultra-capacitors.  Capacitors are simpler and easier to make than batteries.  A capacitor consists of an anode and cathode separated by a dielectric material which prevents the accumulated charge from jumping the gap between the electrodes.  The key to lower cost is to make the various layers as thin as possible so more material can be stuffed into a small space.  LiCAP’s innovation is using an activated carbon membrane that is 100 microns or less thick, yet quite strong.  The conventional wet process inherently makes much thicker electrodes.  

Zhong’s long-time business partner Martin Zea has been inventing their own production process and machines to make rolls of material at 100 meters per minute, faster than any competitor.  The rolls are sent to LiCAP’s ultra-capacitor assembly plant in Tianjin, China, for now.  In 2016, the China government lavished help on anyone wanting to set up enterprises such as this, and that gave LiCAP an important kickstart.  Now, the company is making millions of dollars of sales per year, with about 40 employees in its local plant.

Dry electrodes have been getting a lot of attention in the market, and LiCAP may have the lead in making them practical.  They are smaller, with higher energy and power densities than any other.  Super-caps and ultra-caps are used in a lot of products, notably in some EVs to provide near-instantaneous injections of power and energy with very fast recharge times.  They are also used in medical equipment, industrial machinery, and consumer electronics to protect against short losses of power or power spikes, or providing an important boost.  As their product’s capacity increases they are getting increasing attention for grid support.  One interesting LiCAP product is a drop-in replacement for the batteries used in wind turbines to adjust the pitch of the blades as they start to rotate.  This kind of high-power draw is murder on batteries, but perfect for ultra-caps that then can last 10-15 years compared to 2-3 years for batteries.  They may also become important to backstop ultrafast charging stations.  Advertisements for LiCAP now routinely pop up on technology sites and in publications.

But batteries are an even bigger market.  Zhong sees that market as her ultimate goal and the one most likely to take her company past the billion-dollar mark.  Katharina Gerber has been added to the team in the last year as the Director of Business Development to accelerate the sales and strategic partnerships.  LiCAP has been hosting a couple dozen of interested partners and customers this year as word of their new material has spread.  They have added a process development area at their facility, which is doing batches of material for batteries, working out the kinks.  They hope to have a continuous process in operation soon to start making batteries and getting them to market to increase their impact.

Since beginning the ultracap assembly plant in Tianjing, doing business in China has become more difficult.  Zhong now wants to keep the manufacture of the membranes and final assembly in the US, especially with the new IRA law limiting the most generous EV incentives for buyers to those vehicles with a significant fraction of all content coming from the US and North America.  

To get to a bigger scale and to build the battery-manufacturing process line, LiCAP will need to find an investment of $25+ million.  They hope this will be enough to convince more of the skeptics that they meet the requirements of big orders with a high-quality product that meets all the performance measures.  Then Zhong believes they will be able to make the leap to Giga-scale either through an alliance with an established battery manufacturer or on its own. 

The CEO has been very quiet about this company and few people even know about it.  Will it be the next clean tech unicorn in our region?  Linda Zhong is very determined to do just that.

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | TobinBlueTech Valley, Revrnt, River City Bank

Moss AdamsPowerSoft.biz, Greenberg Traurig, California Mobility Center

Big Step: Sunnova to Create Community Microgrids as Regulated Utilities

Big Step: Sunnova to Create Community Microgrids as Regulated Utilities

Rather than run away from being regulated, Sunnova sees advantages in becoming a regulated utility in order to advance its plan to collaborate with developers of new neighborhoods to create shut-off safe microgrids.  The CPUC opened this possibility by creating a “light-handed” regulatory scheme for microgrids of fewer than 2000 customers.  Prices would be overseen by the CPUC, but microgrids would not be subject to most of the requirements for filings and documentation that the big regulated utilities face.  The combination of higher reliability power service at prices that will be reviewed for fairness might be very attractive to those looking for a new home.  That clearly is what could motivate developers to offer this opportunity.  Lennar has already jumped on-board.

Texas-based Sunnova is a medium-size residential solar company with about 208,000 customers.  It has been doing rooftop solar and battery systems one home at a time.  This bold move to do whole communities is a big step for them.

Sunnova would install rooftop PV, community solar, energy storage, backup generation, and demand controls, making each microgrid a Virtual Power Plant for dispatch by CalISO.  The microgrid would separate from the grid during an outage and the customers would rely on its on-site power. The objective is to have the microgrid operate independently for a minimum of 300 hours.  The community would still be connected to the grid but rely on it for 20% or less of the power to meet customer needs.  Sunnova says the microgrid would cost about $16,000 to $20,000 per home.  

Sunnova contends their approach would also avoid some of the need for upgrading the distribution system to accommodate distributed renewable generation.  If so, Sunnova may have a “win-win” solution to adding renewables and maintaining high levels of reliability at a lower price tag than more conventional approaches.  

As a pioneer of this approach, Sunnova may be imitated by others.  Many will be watching and likely coming up with their own variations.  One key step will be whether this can be applied in existing neighborhoods, where it may not be as easy as in a newly constructed one.  And who knows what “light-handed” regulation may actually entail.  There is a lot to be learned by this experiment, especially whether it can accelerate the movement to more community microgrids.

Thomas Hall

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

CleanStart Sponsors

Weintraub | TobinBlueTech Valley, Revrnt, River City Bank

Moss AdamsPowerSoft.biz, Greenberg Traurig, California Mobility Center


Contact Us

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Website developed by Ryan McBride for Ellington Marketing Solutions