VC dollars now chasing fast battery charging
Chrysalix Energy has led a multimillion-dollar investment in a Dutch-based maker of ultrafast battery chargers aimed at electric cars and plug-in hybrids. Epyon B.V., a spinout from the Delft University of Technology, has a “supercharge” technology it says can reduce the charge time of lithium-ion battery packs up to 20-fold. “Clearly, the bottleneck up to now has been the speed of re-charging and that is exactly what Epyon is good at,” said Rene Savelsberg, managing director and CEO of SET Venture Partners, a European affiliate to Chrysalix.
Epyon’s computer controlled, lightweight charger would reduce from five hours to 15 minutes the length of time it takes to charge up an electric vehicle’s battery pack. This would make it possible to begin adding quick-charge stations at existing gas stations, giving electric car owners the freedom of travelling longer distances without fear of running out of juice. Other companies, such as Vancouver-based AccelRate, are also working on quick-charge systems but still have some way to go. AccelRate currently claims it can reduce a five-hour lithium ion charge down to an hour. Even so, few people would be willing to sit at a charge station for an hour during a long drive.
As we get closer to 2010, when GM, Toyota and others are expected to come out with competing plug-in vehicles, the debate over quick-charge versus battery-swapping will continue to intensify. Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Project Better Place, envisions a network of battery swap stations located throughout a country. Drivers of electric cars would become members of this network, paying a subscription just as they would for mobile phone coverage. Israel and Denmark have so far backed the idea. It should be noted, however, that Agassi isn’t against a charging infrastructure (and makes this clear on his Web site). And that’s probably a good things, as most experts I’ve spoken with say ultrafast charging is the future of electric transportation.