For those unfamiliar, the Hornsdale Power Reserve in southern Australia is a big bank of lithium-ion batteries located next to a large windfarm. The idea is to charge the batteries when power is plentiful and release the power back into the grid when extra power is needed. This is done in two ways: by giving big boosts of power (for 10 minutes) when there’s a problem with the grid, and by load-shifting power under normal circumstances to help make renewables more reliable.
While the Seeking Alpha post goes into great detail, the important thing is this: the world’s biggest battery is not only doing well, but it’s doing well in ways that people didn’t predict. The battery is providing the services they expected when it was built, but also doing things unexpected, like allowing some peaker plants to stay off.
Because of all of this, the battery is about to be expanded 50%. With around 50% renewables in that part of Australia expected to grow further toward 100%, they’re going to need more storage not only to do what has been done already, but for new roles on the grid.
While this may seem pretty far flung from the business of replacing the batteries of vehicles like older Nissan LEAFs, that’s really not the case. Keep in mind that big batteries like the one in Australia are made up of many smaller ones, and are ultimately made of the same kinds of cells you’d find in an electric vehicle.
There have been many experiments, including in the United States, with using EVs to do the same things this big battery in Australia is doing. By allowing utilities some control over EV charging, and allowing them to take some energy from the batteries at key times, EV batteries have been able to be part of a broader solution and not just a load on the grid.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and feel like we are at the pinnacle of technology today. In many ways, it’s true, but in others, we aren’t moving along as fast as we might think.
People familiar with old AMC cars, like the Pacer and the Gremlin, will recognize this right away. This car didn’t make it to production, but it definitely inspired the style of cars that followed in in the years later.
While AMC didn’t have the deep pockets of the “Big 3” automakers, several developments pushed them to produce this prototype.
First, air quality was getting downright lousy in major American cities. Smog, smoke, and other contaminants were getting to the point where kids couldn’t go outside on some days. This was especially true in cities like Los Angeles that were designed around the automobile. Congestion and gridlock on major routes only made it worse, as cars would sit and pollute while going nowhere.
This all led to legislation meant to clean up the air. Most people know about CARB, federal emissions equipment requirements, unleaded gasoline, catalytic converters, and the beginning of air testing for vehicles in many places. What is less known is that the federal government also provided funding for electric vehicle research, prompting automakers to start these efforts.
Finally, the 60s and 70s were a time when the United States found itself struggling with reliance on foreign oil. During the worst of it, people put up with shortages and long, long gas lines as some countries choked off the supply of fuel to push the U.S. political buttons. Electric car prototypes, which didn’t make it to production, did show the public that automakers and the government were looking for other options.
AMC and other automakers were experimenting with a variety of different drivetrain and engine options at the time, including GM’s rotary engine program that AMC planned to procure engines from. While none of the alternative power plants made it to production, it was definitely a time of innovation that led to the later success of electric vehicles.
What Made This Vehicle Unique
Like many other EV prototypes of the era, the Amitron was small and light. It had a much more aerodynamic shape than most blocky cars of the era, and was designed more for efficiency than for speed or utility.
What made this vehicle different from the other efforts was its two-stage battery pack. Lithium-ion batteries of the time were the best possible option for energy density, but chemistries of the day simply weren’t up to the task of providing high amounts of raw power or charging quickly when trying to use regenerative braking. To solve this problem, engineers decided to use a bigger lithium pack to charge a smaller nickel-cadmium pack that could handle acceleration and regenerative braking.
This put the Amitron ahead of other manufacturers’ prototypes, which couldn’t accelerate quickly or provide regenerative braking. The few that could used odd battery chemistries that were prohibitively expensive and/or had very poor longevity.
After The Amitron
After the Amitron, AMC did go on to produce other prototypes, some based on the Amitron. Most didn’t go onto any kind of mass production, but the overall shape and style of the Amitron did inspire the Pacer and Gremlin production gas vehicles.
AMC ultimately did produce a limited run of small EV Jeeps for the U.S. Postal Service, with several hundred put into service for a few years in the most polluted cities. The “Electruck” didn’t set any records with its 33 MPH cruising speed and limited range, but was a good fit for the USPS mission of delivering mail.
It would be decades before more serious efforts like the GM EV1 and Nissan LEAF came along, but the Amitron’s 150-mile range and advanced features did show automakers that a practical and usable electric vehicle was at least possible. That alone gives the little car a very good legacy.
A recent article in Forbes shows us that there’s a lot of promise in battery technology, but big promises draw big skepticism.
Double the density, less than half the weight, and at half the cost–that’s what Nikola Motors’ CEO Trevor Wilson promised to show us in the second half of 2020. Such battery cells would revolutionize the industry, but only after giving Nikola Motors a big edge over the competition.
Wilson’s claims weren’t backed with much other information, but he did tells Forbes that the improvements came from eliminating costly metals such as nickel, cobalt and magnesium, use of a “free-standing electrode” and a “whole different type of chemical, with a lithium component.”
Understandably, battery experts are going to be skeptical of such claims. One said, “…it’s safe to dismiss this out of hand.” while others said it was unlikely, but possible with sulfur-based chemistries. Many scientists and companies are working on improved battery cell technology, and it surprised them to hear Nikola make such claims.
While there’s just not enough information for anybody at Fēnix to make heads or tails of this and say it’s true or not, we do know that eventually battery chemistry will radically improve and that battery technology is definitely going to improve over time.
That’s one of the great things about being able to upgrade your EV’s battery. With electric vehicles like the Nissan LEAF, you don’t have to be stuck in 2010 forever. As battery technology improves, we can help you stay at the front of it over time.
My Leaf lost another bar, I’m getting nervous, are you close?
When are you going to start installing in [customer home town]?
Can I get into the beta testing group? I really want mine sooner!
These are all great questions, and we know our answers haven’t been as clear as they could be. Answers like “We’re starting installs in early 2020.” Or “We’re hoping to get around 40kWh in the stock battery location.” And while both of these answers are true, we know all of you want more clarity. You want to see us really commit to a release date. And many of you just really need to get some help for your Leaf, and quickly, those bars keep going away!
Well, it’s time to clear up all of that haziness. Mark your calendars, this coming weekend, the weekend of December 14th and 15th we’re going to try to answer all of those burning questions!
As the CEO, I’ve decided that I’m going to record our announcement on video, I will be able to share what’s going on with our progress, discuss product testing and production release schedules, share some of our recent big wins here at Fēnix as well.
And on top of all of this news, we actually have some very surprising news to share that will make a very real difference for many of you! We believe this to e a really big deal, and can’t wait until our customers learn about it.
We will be sharing the video on our YouTube channel, converting it into a podcast format if you prefer to listen over watching, publish the full text for people to read, and we will be blasting out links to everything to get the word out. So if you’re already on our mailing list or following us on social media somewhere, you’ll definitely hear about it.
I seriously can’t wait to share the news. I am a bit nervous about being on video, especially in such a long recording! But I think it’s important that you hear the news directly from me. I’m going to try to get the rest of the team into the video to say hello as well, but we’ll see if we can pull that off with Fēnix Power employees working coast to coast!
A recent article in Forbes shows us that lithium-ion batteries are about to hit a major milestone, and it’s going to transform more than the EV industry.
Over the last 9 years, prices for lithium-ion batteries have dropped considerably already. In 2019 dollars, we’ve already gone from over $1100 per kWh of storage to only $156 today. That alone is a major factor in the increasing affordability of electric vehicles. Further, it makes it easier and cheaper to keep existing EVs around, as it’s cheaper to restore the battery packs with newer cells that are not only better, but cheaper than what came with the car originally.
The major tipping point happens at around $100/kWh, and that’s projected to happen around 2023. However, the author does point out that even the Forbes data is probably behind the times. The writer says that his sources already are seeing prices pretty close to $100 today.
Why is $100 important? Mostly because it’s the point where the battery production is competitive with the older technologies that battery packs seek to replace. For example, an EV can cost the same as a gasoline-powered vehicle without losing any of the savings inherent to an EV. At this point, there’s no reason to keep buying gas vehicles (at least in places with good charging infrastructure).
The advantages of cheaper lithium-ion batteries don’t stop there, though.
One major industry that’s going to see big changes is the utility industry. Cheaper grid storage will lead to less dependence on “peaker” plants, and will allow more excess renewable energy to be used through the times when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. That’s not all, though. Microgrids, home energy storage (plus solar), and a number of other technologies will start lessening reliance on the grid itself.
EV charging and other high-power equipment will also be interacting with the grid in much cheaper ways. Utilities make a lot of money from customers who pull large amounts of power for short periods by charging a whole-month “demand charge” for the extra juice. This money does go to financing the extra infrastructure needed for high-draw users, but it’s also a great way to keep prices low for people drawing less juice.
As charging stations and other industrial users install battery packs, though, this changes. Instead of pulling their peak power use directly from the grid, they can pull it from a battery that slowly recharges the whole day. That way, utilities don’t get to charge for demand peaks, but often will need to leave the expensive infrastructure in place, and that’s assuming that the company keeps pulling power from the grid at all most days.
Finally, there’s the issue of the non-electric industries impacted. The largest will be the oil industry, as people shift away from oil for transportation and for energy generation. Just like coal, other industries will also be disrupted.
As battery technology continues to get cheaper, the effects become harder and harder to predict. We are likely to see things get more and more interesting in the coming years!
After months of searching and discussing with a number of different battery suppliers, we have finally found the supplier we are looking for!
For several months now we have been talking to a number of different suppliers of our target battery, the 18650 Lithium-Ion based cell. We spoke with wholesalers, distributors, and even directly to several manufacturers, but in most cases ran into a common challenge: As a startup, we simply weren’t able to get them to commit to large volume pricing. We have more than 1 mWh of batteries required to meet our current deposit holders on our pre-order waiting list. We were getting quotes that aligned with 10s or 100s of kWh in volume, which were good, but not good enough.
Even though we have more than 400 reservations, we’re intending to serve several thousand new Leaf customers each year and many more customers with non-Leaf EVs in the years that follow. It is core to our values to make our product affordable, our primary driver for entering into the EV market was that the high cost of batteries creates most of the market’s adoption barriers. Expensive batteries make the cars expensive, they make servicing the car expensive, and the high cost of replacing batteries makes used EVs lose value quickly. So if we want to stay true to our values, we need to ensure our battery supplier understands that we need to get to volume production very quickly, and that means volume pricing.
We had also considered finding a supplier that can deliver quality cells in the 2170 (sometimes referred to as 21700) cell packaging. However, we were having a difficult time finding a supplier in that size that was a brand name our customers could trust. And for the last several months we had largely shelved the idea that we could use a 2170 cell in our battery modules.
But why did we want the 2170 to begin with? A quick look at Tesla’s choice to move to this size can answer that. By shifting to 2170 in the Model 3 from the 18650 in the S and X, Tesla was able to deliver a 50% improvement in energy density and a large reduction in the number of individual cells in the car. In short, you get more storage for less cost, size, and weight. The math is hard to ignore. But until recently Tesla was the only big brand manufacturing sufficient volume of these cells, and we’re not a big enough company for Tesla to consider being our supplier. So the search continued…
Until this week! We now have entered into an agreement with a supplier of 2170 cells manufactured by a true name-brand and with more than enough volume to achieve our next several year’s production goals! Not only are we able to get these elusive 2170 cells, but we’re getting them at a price that’s similar to what some other suppliers were quoting for 18650s! And even better, they will assemble, wrap and wire the cells into the arrangement we specify for our custom modules, so they are also a contract manufacturer for our battery assembly now as well! Two suppliers in one! All of us at Fēnix Power are walking on air this weekend, this is a HUGE win for us, and for our customers.
So what does this really mean for our customers and our products? First, it means we will be able to deliver more for less. We’re now re-evaluating our pricing model to determine if we can adjust our predictions for the monthly subscription costs. And second, it means we will be able to get more energy storage into the same space. For customers interested in expanding their Leaf’s capacity, we can’t tell you specifically how much more yet, we’re going to save that news for an announcement later. But what we can say is this: We had planned on trying to get to 40kWh in the stock battery location, but preliminary designs were only reaching about 39kWh. Well, now we can confidently state that 40kWh is easy to achieve, very easy. We can’t wait to share more, so for now, here are some cell specs for those that find such details important:
Size: 21mm x 70mm (970 cubic mm) Weight: 69 grams (0.069 Kg) 4.8Ah (4800 mAh) 18.5Wh (0.0185kWh) Energy Density: 268 Wh/Kg
*Image for 18650 v 2170 size reference, not our actual cells
We are often asked by our customers “What are you doing about recycling?” or “What happens to my old battery and what happens to your batteries when they’re at the end of their life?” and of course, our answer has always been that we’re committed to never throwing cells away. But anyone can say they’re going to do something, words without actions are just words.
We have been searching to find the right recycling partner, and today we are excited to announce our search is over. We have found a recycling partner that not only will recycle our old cells, but they will also take most of them and convert them into use for fixed storage for the grid, businesses, data centers, etc. This is exactly what we’ve been searching for!
Please welcome IT Asset Partners to the Fēnix Power team of environmentally conscious partners! They describe themselves like this:
ITAP is the leading global technology company in the reverse logistics industry, providing Fortune 1000 partners with innovative repurposing solutions that transcend the term “recycling” and redefine value.
ITAP is committed to the 2nd-life market of modern chemistry batteries. Today’s EV, HEV, PHEV vehicles often use advanced chemistries to achieve the storage needs today’s vehicles demand. And an EV is a very demanding application for a battery! We charge and discharge our EV batteries daily, and if not daily, we run them from a nearly full charge to nearly depleted. Plus when in use, we expect our packs to deliver lots of power very quickly. And when we stop at a fast charger, we feed them lots of power very quickly!
In our Leafs under hard acceleration, the battery pack may see as much as 50kW of demand. And we’re all familiar with how temperature can have real impacts on the cells we’re already expecting a lot from. But the interesting part, is when you change the use case from EV to something like fixed storage, the performance expectations are very different. An on-site business battery will often see a heavy load, but that demand increases slowly, and they get recharged over longer periods of time. In a power backup scenario, again they’ll charge slowly over time, and when under load, that load is even and drawn out over hours or days. What all this means is once a cell can’t perform well in an EV, it could still see years, or even decades of use in a fixed storage installation. Here is what ITAP says about Lithium Batteries:
ITAP is a strong believer in the future of Lithium-ion batteries. Working with the largest Automotive OEMs, ITAP breathes 2nd lives into our partners’ dispositioned batteries. We don’t just integrate, we create – ITAP works closely with manufacturing partners to design products that are customized inherently with our OEM partners’ battery chemistries and specifications. With ITAP’s repurposing solutions, we have a full spectrum of applications that enhance utilitarian value and preserve natural resources. Whether from an EV, PHEV or HEV battery pack, your batteries’ power density knows no bounds with ITAP innovations.
And finally, this partnership allows us to proudly say that every battery that we take out of service will become part of the supply chain of a business that fully complies with stringent industry recycling standards. ITAP maintains a responsible and sustainable business management system in full compliance with R2:2013, ISO 9001:2015, OHSAS 18001:2007, ISO 14001:2015, and practices for responsible recycling.
An important thing we like to keep in mind at Fēnix is that all batteries aren’t the same. While a battery cell’s ability to hold energy, charge fast, and last a long time get most of the press, there are other factors we have to keep in mind. One of the most important is where the battery’s components come from.
A recent piece in Greentech Media illustrates this well. While many like to focus on the cobalt and lithium mining in battery production, one of the most common components in battery cells is graphite, like you’d find in the common #2 pencil we all grew up with in school.
While graphite is a great substitute for toxic lead in pencils, it has much more important properties in batteries. Graphite is very conductive, and its layered composition allows it to work very well with lithium ion to store energy.
Greentech points out:
This is the crux of the emissions issue: Graphite is only produced by crushing and then roasting a mined product or as a byproduct of coal mining or oil refining…
These two types of graphite, natural and synthetic, compete in the battery anode materials market; the split of demand was around 50:50 in 2018.
Synthetic graphite is the higher-cost option for anode material, but its higher purity makes it preferable for use in premium batteries. Most battery anode producers use a blend of synthetic and natural materials, balancing costs and performance. But increasingly, the lower electrical resistances and greater consistency offered by synthetic have resulted in advanced technologies, such as NCA and NMC 811, coming to use more synthetic graphite.
They go on to point out that the demand for synthetic graphite (that comes from fossil fuel production) is only projected to go up in the next few years, as advanced battery technology needs it.
While there are limits to what we can do when making our battery packs, we do keep the environment in mind and try to do our best in that regard. We take the cleanliness and decency in our supply chains seriously, and strive to not only do our best in that regard but continue to improve going forward.
We will be announcing a new recycling partnership in the next few days, with this partnership Fēnix Power will be able to recycle 100% of the batteries we take out of service!
We’re really excited by the response we’ve had over this holiday weekend, and while there are still several hours left for the current pricing, we gained 40 new Leaf reservations! That’s a 10% gain in reservations in less than 5 days, absolutely amazing! In all this excitement and looking through our new customer reservations, we noticed something: One of our customers who already had a couple of previous reservations came in yesterday and reserved TEN MORE!
While I can’t share the business name or what they’re doing just yet, this customer has reserved a total of 15 of our Nissan Leaf upgrades. To us, this is huge! We have been working on a package of information for the potential to take our product into fleet sales and fleet management, and as it turns out, one of our customers ran the numbers himself as a fleet operator and concluded that Fēnix Power is what his fleet needs.
We’ve already connected with him to discuss his plans briefly, and are meeting with him again this week to work on shaping what will become a more formal commercial fleet owner/operator program for customers just like him. He’s very excited about what we’re developing here, and we’re going to be discussing the possibility of sharing what he’s doing in our news section soon.
While we know our consumer customers are excited about the proposition of what our battery service subscription model means for them as individuals, we will be able to provide fleet operators with a level of battery data they’ve not yet seen from an EV or any vehicles they’ve operated in their fleets before. Unified billing, management, predictive maintenance scheduling and even integrated on-site charging solutions around the corner.
We’re looking for other EV fleet operators, Nissan Leaf or otherwise to connect with to learn about your current operations and expense challenges. If you’re currently operating an ICE fleet and are considering a switch to EV, or if you already have a fleet of aging Nissan Leafs, or even Tesla vehicles that are starting to see range impacted by high use miles, we can show you how Fēnix will change the way you’re planning around your Power needs.
Actually, as of the writing of this post, we’re at 402, and this is huge! Both for us and for our ability to raise capital to deliver on our commitment to all of you, our customers. When we started going after funding several years ago, we were told we needed to prove the market demand or no one would invest or lend us even a dime. So our goal for 2019 was to do exactly that, show proof that all of our research was right. One investor that has been a mentor of mine going on four years now gave me two great pieces of advice:
“A customer is someone who has given you actual money in exchange for either an actual product, or the commitment to deliver a product later. If all you have is a list of people who say they would buy your product, but haven’t paid anything to be on that list, you don’t have customers, you have a fan club.”
I took this to heart and set about developing a product that people would actually want to buy. My first venture into this space was still based on our modular battery architecture but applied in a kit to convert Ford F-series pickups to electric vehicles. I got a lot of interest, and as he said, even had a fan club, but when it came time to get deposits, it just wasn’t converting. I also designed a product that would fit into the trunk area of a Leaf, to add more range, which again earned a lot of interest, but very few willing to pay a deposit. It wasn’t until 2018 when Nissan started raising prices on replacing their battery that it started to make sense for us to compete with their stock battery pack. I spent the first half of 2018 working through some of the design challenges of adapting our product to fit the stock pack location, and then at the end of September 2018, we made our announcement.
And the market responded! Since that first weekend, not only have we shown that there is demand, but that we can organically grow our product interest without expensive advertising or product hype. We’ve purposely kept much of the design under wraps and kept our performance capability claims restrained and realistic because we needed to prove to lenders and investors that our measurement of the market demand isn’t influenced by hype or by promising over-the-top capabilities. Consumers truly want an answer to their needs, and they’ve shown they have confidence that we will be the ones delivering that answer.
“You can show me a stack of market research, charts, graphs, and expert opinions, and paint a very good picture of what your market looks like, but until you can measure that demand with actual money and commitments, all you’ve done is paint a picture.”
Thanks to each and every one of you that is holding a reservation, we’ve done exactly that. We are showing that the demand for Fēnix Power’s solution is more than just a picture, this is a very real, and growing market need. And we have shown that our demand is accelerating! Every quarter for 5 straight quarters since the announcement, we have seen reservations double! To achieve that for Q4 of 2019, we predicted we will get to 500 reservations by the end of the year, and expect to see us break 1,000 by the end of March 2020. I have no doubts that we will see exactly that.
But even better than just your deposits, I and my team have been talking one on one to quite a few of you, and we’re learning so much about the impact that battery degradation has for our customers. This isn’t just an aging car part, people are feeling their world slowly shrinking by a more and more constrained ability of their cars. Many are feeling trapped by the weight of a car they can’t get out from underneath. And the worst one, many are feeling betrayed by an industry that they have, very vocally, been supporting for the batter part of a decade.
I personally take that last lesson to heart. Of course, I’m here to build a business and to make a product, but if I were to somehow forget all but one of the lessons that 2019 has taught me, this is what I want to remember the most: Our customers are coming to us because someone else has failed them. A manufacturer failed them by building a product that aged much too quickly. A salesman failed them by promising that their car would make everything about their world better. A business responsible for servicing their car failed them by making their only answer too expensive to be within reach.
I know we at Fēnix Power may not get everything right in the coming years, but the one thing I will be reminding my team over and over again is we’re going to start everything we do with this: By designing our solution as a service and selling it through a subscription, we aren’t just making sales and selling products, we are building a relationship with a person. And these people are putting their trust in us that we’re participating in the relationship too. That we will be there to stand behind our products through the entire length of their subscription. From day one through year 10, it’s our job to make sure they feel like Fēnix made their world better.
-John Bysinger Founder & CEO
Note: The image attached to this post does NOT mean we’re sold out of Nissan reservations, but it does mean that, after Cyber Monday, we shift to the next pricing group for our pre-order customers. Once this weekend’s sale has passed, reservations will see a smaller reduction in the balance due at the time of install. Instead of $150 due later, that will go up to $600 due at the time of install. If you haven’t reserved yet, be sure to do so before 5:00 PM PST as that’s when the Cyber Monday sale ends!