Tag Archives: Electrovaya

The incentives are there, the signals have been sent: Where are the Ontario manufacturers of plug-in vehicles and technologies?

UPDATE: The “comprehensive study” referred to below was, as suspected, never done. Here is a response from the Ministry of Transportation on the matter: “The study was not completed as originally intended. Subsequent to the press release that is being referred to, MTO conducted research and analysis to determine options the Ontario government could take to support consumer adoption of electric vehicles. This included identifying types of electric vehicles major OEMs were producing and when these vehicles were expected to enter the Ontario market. In addition, a broad scan was undertaken to determine what other jurisdictions are doing to support the introduction of electric vehicles. A cross ministerial working group on EVs was set up to identify the barriers and opportunities to the introduction of electric passenger vehicles in the province. Elements of this research will be released as a public education document to inform Ontarians about this newly emerging transportation technology. This document is expected to be available on the ministry’s Website in the very near future” — i.e. more than two years after the comprehensive study originally envisioned, this “newly emerging” technology isn’t as new as it once was.

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty walked in front of a podium at the Toronto Convention Centre and signaled to the world that the province was a good place to invest in electric-vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure. “One of the most important things we can do is demonstrate we are truly an electric-car friendly jurisdiction,” McGuinty said to a scrum of reporters, outnumbered only by the black-suited government bureaucrats and policy wonks trying to “manage” the importance of the event. What McGuinty announced was a partnership with Better Place, the California company led by Shai Agassi that’s trying to establish electric-vehicle charging and battery-swapping infrastructure around the world. There were no investments from either side. Rather, Better Place said it would establish an office in Toronto and serve to educate the public about electric vehicles while also demonstrating its charging technology (a commitment the company, to its credit, fulfilled with this March 2011 announcement).

“The province has committed to conducting a comprehensive study, which will look at ways to speed up the introduction and adoption of electric vehicles. This study is scheduled for release in May 2009,” according to a Better Place press release issued on the day. Personally, I don’t remember having ever seen that comprehensive study, nor do I know if it was ever done (am currently checking on this).

Better Place continued, “This announcement maintains the province’s traditional strength in automotive production while incorporating the forward thinking technology of battery operated vehicles. Embracing this technology in its early stages will provide the province with the stimulus needed for enhanced job creation and economic growth.” Indeed, the province’s own press release stated,”Expanding the use of electric vehicles by consumers and government will help create and sustain jobs in the auto sector and put Ontario at the forefront of the new, green economy in North America.”

McGuinty, at the press conference, specifically said: “It’s going to make it more attractive to build those very cars right here in our province.”

To strengthen the signal sent to the market — that is, the message that Ontario is serious about electric vehicles — McGuinty also announced the province would offer rebates of between $4,000 and $10,000 (among the highest rebates in the world) for plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles purchased after July 1, 2010. It would also issue green vehicle license plates that would allow drivers to use high occupancy lanes and gain access to public charging facilities and parking at Ontario government and GO Transit lots.

The vision was sound. But two and a half years later, what has all this signalling and messaging and “incentivizing” brought to the province? Not a heck of a lot. Not only is there not a single original equipment manufacturer in the auto sector making (or planning to make) a plug-in vehicle in this province, Ontario car buyers have to wait a year or more before they can purchase plug-in vehicle models that are available in the United States, and they have to pay several thousands of dollars more at a time when the Canadian dollars is worth more than the U.S. greenback. There’s no manufacturing of electric-vehicle charging systems and related infrastructure being established within our borders. There’s no indication that homegrown Magna, which is making and supplying the electric drivetrain for Ford’s upcoming Focus BEV, is doing the manufacturing in Ontario. There’s no hint of any foreign, including Chinese, manufacturers planning to set up operations in Ontario. We’re not even making conventional hybrid-electric vehicles in this province.

There is one battery maker that I know of, Mississauga-based Electrovaya, that is producing battery packs for two Chrysler demonstration plug-in models (a pickup and a minivan), but Electrovaya was here before McGuinty’s 2009 announcement and, if this little company does end up getting volume orders, there’s no sign yet that it will do such manufacturing in Ontario. If there is something I’m missing here, please let me know.

The Ontario Smart Grid Forum — a group representing members of Ontario’s utility sector, industry associations, public agencies and universities — recommended in a February 2009 report that:

A Task Force, led by the Ministry of Economic Development and involving other relevant Ministries, should be created consisting of representatives from the auto sector (vehicle manufacturers and suppliers) electricity sector (OEB, IESO, OPA, distributors and generators) and universities to develop a comprehensive plan for enabling plug-in electric vehicles in Ontario. The plan would address policy, financial, and electricity system impacts of substantial electric vehicle penetration and identify what is required to ensure that vehicles can be charged as they develop. The Task Force should link to the ongoing collaborative work by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and standards development organizations to develop electric vehicles standards.

Never happened. Neither has the government released an economic development roadmap related to electric vehicles and technologies.

From what I gather, none of the billions of dollars in bailout money that went to the Canadian operations of major U.S. automakers during the economic meltdown were conditional on these companies establishing a plug-in vehicle/technology manufacturing footprint in Ontario, nor have any rewards since then. Just today, it was announced that the federal and Ontario governments would be supplying up to $140 million in loans and grants to Toyota to upgrade its manufacturing operations in Cambridge and Woodstock. Again, no mention of Toyota’s commitment or intention of building capacity for next-generation vehicle technologies in Ontario.

At this point in time, it appears the McGuinty government’s 30-month-old “signal” to the auto sector as an attempt to attract investment in next-generation electric vehicle technology/infrastructure has been a dismal failure. This next-generation manufacturing is instead being created in Michigan and other U.S. jurisdiction. Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade has failed to execute on the promise of “creating and sustaining jobs” in this emerging and increasingly strategic part of the North American transportation market.

What gives? Can’t say, but wouldn’t it be nice if the Libs, after three years of talk, actually pulled a rabbit out of the hat and delivered on that earlier promise? Perhaps there will be a pre-election surprise, but don’t count on it.

Electrovaya to supply battery tech for Chrysler minivans

I’ve always resisted the pull of minivans, as practical as they can be. We are now a one-car family, and the one car we do have is a Suzuki Aerio hatchback that has served us quite nicely. Good on gas. No major maintenance issues after eight years. Decent, reliable car. The second car was replaced by a combination of Zipcar, transit, walking and cycling and so far that has worked out well. But the kids are getting older — daughters are 5 and 8 now — and the idea of packing up the family to go camping, to a friend’s cottage, or visit relatives out of town has me thinking that the Suzuki, once it kicks the bucket, should be replaced with a minivan. It kills me to say it — however, I only do it on condition that the minivan I purchase is a plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV).

Problem is, there aren’t many plans out there for PHEV minivans, which is why I was intrigued to read today that Mississauga-based Electrovaya has been selected to supply its lithium-ion superpolymer battery system to Chrysler, which wants to install them in a demonstration fleet of 25 PHEV Town and Country minivans. Electrovaya has also been supplying its battery system for Chrysler’s Ram 1500 pickup trucks. If the demonstration proves successful, perhaps in a couple of years we’ll see Chrysler committing to a commercial rollout of its PHEV Town and Country, at which time I’d give it a serious look. Assuming the Suzuki holds out until then.

Electrovaya snags battery supply deal with second major automotive OEM

Details are sketchy, but Mississauga-based lithium-ion superpolymer battery maker Electrovaya said today it has signed a deal with, in its words, “a major North American automotive OEM to supply battery packs for its second Plug-In-Hybrid vehicle (PHEV) platform.” Delivery of the battery packs has commenced, according to Electrovaya. Electrovaya CEO Sankar DasGupta is calling the deal a “significant breakthrough” for the company but more information is needed to get a sense of the deal’s importance.

Ontario news: Grid storage project, acquisitions and Vestas

Mississauga-based Electrovaya Inc., maker of lithium-ion Superpolymer batteries, is supplying batteries for a utility-scale energy storage project being spearheaded by CEATI International Inc. of Montreal, an advanced technology centre for utilities. The $7.5 million project will be a large-scale initiative involving multiple utilities and sites. The batteries will be tested as storage for renewable energy generation and as a way to ease distribution and transmission bottlenecks in high-density urban areas. CEATI will also investigate the repurposing of electric-vehicle batteries for smart-grid applications, given that a battery that outlives its usefulness in a vehicle can still be used for many years as general energy storage for the grid.

On the acquisition front, two more promising Ontario cleantech ventures have been plucked up by U.S. firms. On Tuesday Toronto-based biogas maker Stormfisher Biogas announced it had been acquired by Virginia-based Greenhouse Gas Services. Despite having one of the most boring and uninspiring names, Greenhouse Gas Services is a venture of GE Energy Financial Services and AES Corp., so it has some serious backing. The company invests in and develops projects that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and it then sells the carbon credits. So here’s my question: If some of the biggest Stormfisher projects are expected to be in Ontario, and since the Ontario Power Authority doesn’t appear to be letting biogas projects keep carbon credits, then what’s in it for Greenhouse Gas Services? I can only speculate that the power authority has quietly decided to let developers keep credits from methane destruction. Something I’ll have to follow up on.

And just today, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Calisolar announced it had acquired Vaughan, Ontario-based 6N Silicon, a maker of solar-grade silicon that will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary. “In addition, $22.5 million in funding was raised from existing Calisolar and 6N investors,” the companies said in a statement. “The new funds will be used to increase capacity at the Sunnyvale, California cell manufacturing facility and expand silicon purification operations in Vaughan, Ontario.” It’s sad to see 6N fall under foreign ownership so early in its life, but the good news is that Calisolar is likely to set up some module assembly in Ontario to take advantage of the feed-in-tariff program here. Given that its solar cells will contain 6N’s silicon, the company will be well positioned to meet Ontario’s local content requirements and even supply other cell/module makers.

Finally, I have a follow to my story about Vestas and the possibility it will lay roots in Ontario. I spoke Wednesday to the company’s head of global offshore markets, who spoke highly of the Trillium projects and called the opportunity to develop offshore wind in the Great Lakes “fantastic.” He wouldn’t say if Vestas plans to establish manufacturing in Ontario — which isn’t surprising — but given the potential in the Great Lakes, the liklihood of Trillium’s projects moving forward first, and the positive policy and regulatory environment in Ontario (including the feed-in-tariff program, which offers 19 cents per kilowatt-hour for offshore wind power), all the stars are aligned and it’s only a matter of time before Vestas makes its move.

Electrovaya could be poised for breakout year

Lithium-ion battery maker Electrovaya Inc. may finally be turning a slew of promising partnerships and MOUs over the past two years into more than just words. The Mississauga-based company ended 2009 on a positive note, announcing in its year-end results that revenue jumped roughly 50 per cent and losses shrunk from over $4 million to less than $600,000.  “Fiscal 2009 marked a turning point for Electrovaya,” said chief executive Sankar Das Gupta in a statement. “Over the course of the past year we have increased our presence in the global market for lithium ion batteries used for electrification of vehicles and for smart grid applications.” He emphasized that Electrovaya, for the first time, showed a profit in its most recent quarter 0f $549,000, what Das Gupta hailed as a “significant achievement.”

To put this into perspective, Electrovaya is still a small fry in the global battery game, pulling in less than $4 million in revenues last year. It’s also an increasingly crowded market, with players like A123, EnerDel, Advanced Lithium, Altair, Panasonic, Boston Power and a slew of others battling for electric-car supremacy. And while it has a history of touting partnerships that haven’t gone anywhere, even if just a fraction bear fruit it could elevate Electrovaya above the noise. And forget about the U.S. market, I’m talking Asia and the deals this company have brokered in India, China and Japan. Just last month it announced an MOU with India’s HEROElectric to jointly developed electric scooters and motorcycles (unlike in China, where electric bicycles are more popular, the East Indian crowd prefers scooters and motorcycles). HEROElectric controls half the market in India for two-wheelers, so it’s not such a bad partner to have. In November it signed another MOU with Japan’s Nippon Kouatsu Electric Co. to co-develop smart grid stationary battery systems based on its Lithium Ion SuperPolymer cell technology, and in late 2008 it signed an MOU with Chana International Corp., China’s third-largest automaker, to develop zero-emission electric cars. Significantly, Chana has joint ventures with Ford, Mazda and Suzuki. Electrovaya is also a partner with India’s Tata Motors as part of a joint-venture to manufacture its  batteries in Norway.

As would be expected, Electrovaya is doing a good job leveraging its own connections to India.

These are all potentially positive announcements. Problem with Electrovaya is that little is known about all these partnerships since their announcement. How is the Norway manufacturing plant progressing? Are the Chinese MOUs moving forward or have they fizzled? That the company has turned a corner by reporting profitability in its fourth quarter, and by announcing some solid revenue growth in 2009, may be a sign that some of the groundwork laid in 2008 and 2009 is beginning to pay off. Certainly a Canadian cleantech company to watch in 2010.