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John Petersen is the executive vice president and chief financial officer of ePower Engine Systems, Inc., a Kentucky-based enterprise that has developed, built and demonstrated an engine-dominant diesel-electric hybrid drivetrain for long-haul heavy trucks that promises fuel savings of 30 to 40... More
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Fefer Petersen & Co.
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  • Envia Systems – When Hype Becomes Deception 43 comments
    Mar 1, 2012 3:02 AM
    Regular readers know that I frequently condemn excessive hype from companies that are just starting down the road to commercialization on innovative battery technologies. This week we saw another fine example of a company that was so busy trying to create a buzz that the truth got kicked under the electric bus.

    On February 27th, privately held Envia Systems announced that cells using their proprietary technology had "achieved the highest recorded energy density of 400 Watt-hours/kilogram (Wh/kg) for a rechargeable lithium ion cell." Further review of the press release and hyperlinks made it clear that the tested cells were first generation prototypes made by a contract manufacturer. I was impressed enough to dig a bit deeper to see whether Envia might be a company worth following.

    When I landed on their "Company" page (hat tip to SA user wtblanchard), I was surprised to see the following graphic that purported to show Envia's ranking on the Lux Research Innovation Grid.

    I wasn't surprised that Envia used the Lux graphic, but I was shocked that that they altered it first. I wouldn't have even noticed if I hadn't used the same graphic in a recent article titled "Lithium-ion Battery Stocks: Investment Opportunities or Subsidized Laggards?" The original from Lux follows.

    What our friends at Envia did was take the center of the graph, renumber the scale and present it as the competitive universe, cutting out both CALB and LG Chem in the process.

    I understand the difference between hype and deception. I'm saddened to learn that Envia Systems does not. While they have since taken the altered graphic down, this is an incident I'll long remember.

    I've archived a screen print of the offending Envia "Company" page in my iCloud public folder.

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Comments (43)
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  • Stilldazed
    , contributor
    Comments (2046) | Send Message
     
    Ouch, red face and red hands. Doesn't say much (in a positive manner) for the company culture or management at Envia (jmho). It will make it hard to trust anything this management team has to say from now on.
    1 Mar 2012, 02:29 AM Reply Like
  • Stilldazed
    , contributor
    Comments (2046) | Send Message
     
    JP,
    Nice catch.
    1 Mar 2012, 02:37 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Hat tip goes to wtblanchard on this particular discovery.

     

    http://bit.ly/xZja1i

     

    I just added a parenthetical hat tip to give credit where credit is due.
    1 Mar 2012, 02:42 AM Reply Like
  • JRP3
    , contributor
    Comments (7426) | Send Message
     
    Just because the marketing department may have been overly enthusiastic doesn't mean the technology isn't sound.
    2 Mar 2012, 08:32 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » The *technology* is an advanced form of laboratory prototype that was manufactured by somebody else.

     

    I find it absolutely appalling that their landing page (http://enviasystems.com) boldly proclaims "400 Wh/kg is here!" when the reality according to Greentech Media (http://bit.ly/zc4vRB ) is:

     

    1. "The next step is to integrate some of the components into the batteries that are currently going into EVs. Kapadia said that is expected to happen in 2014 or 2015."
    2. "Kapadia estimated it will take five to six years to get a full battery pack with the entire 400W/kg system."

     

    That's not here, it's somewhere over the rainbow. It's exactly this kind of extreme exaggeration (a/k/a lying) that makes you look like an absolute moron.
    2 Mar 2012, 09:33 AM Reply Like
  • JRP3
    , contributor
    Comments (7426) | Send Message
     
    Of course cell level density is not the same as pack level density, I don't see where they claimed otherwise. Even if they come in closer to 300 at reduced costs it's still a big deal. Then there is this:
    "Envia is certainly out in front, but a walk around the Showcase floor at ARPA-E proves that there are a lot of other promising transportation energy storage technologies, including 10 funded by ARPA-E's BEEST program, which are hoping to be the next happy story of Energy Innovation Summit 2013."

     

    Bottom line is continued progress which you claim can't happen.
    2 Mar 2012, 09:41 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » I've never claimed progress can't happen. What I keep telling readers is that progress is slow and painful and breathless announcements of 400 Wh/kg that pretend to describe current reality as opposed to something that may exist five to ten years down the road are dishonest.

     

    Envia may in fact have an important discovery. They may also dry up and blow away like about 90% of the innovations I've heard about over the last five years do. They're announced with great fanfare but die with an inaudible whimper.

     

    It's all somewhere over the rainbow thinking that leads to immense losses for investors. You may think that's a swell idea if it reduces the cost of an EV for a philosophically committed but mathematically challenged consumer. I don't.
    2 Mar 2012, 09:47 AM Reply Like
  • JRP3
    , contributor
    Comments (7426) | Send Message
     
    The fact that their product was independently tested to fall within their claimed specification does indeed mean it "is here", it exists. Obviously it's not going to be in vehicles today but it does in fact exist, which means it's here.
    3 Mar 2012, 09:03 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Envia has a SCIENCE FAIR PROJECT, not a PRODUCT. A glorified lab prototype is never HERE and pretending otherwise is insanity. Until it is manufactured at commercial scale and proven its PERFORMANCE, ABUSE TOLERANCE, CYCLE LIFE and COST it is not and cannot be spoken of as a product, unless of course the speaker is a bald faced liar.
    3 Mar 2012, 09:10 AM Reply Like
  • renim
    , contributor
    Comments (1031) | Send Message
     
    Envia's IP technology is adjacent to Nissan's.
    http://bit.ly/xDLl7f

     

    look at table at paragraph [0063] page16, Nissan's proposed cathode performance (200-260) is equivalent to Envia. (~250)

     

    Envia's issue is that they need to execute before the likes of Nissan, Panasonic and GS Yuasa. The technology is coming, no certainty that Envia will reap the benefits though.
    4 Mar 2012, 10:09 AM Reply Like
  • bazooooka
    , contributor
    Comments (2273) | Send Message
     
    I see you caught their little trick. I've heard/seen they aren't shy about self promotion. I have to wonder if their technology is similar hyped as their PR materials have shown so far.
    1 Mar 2012, 03:06 AM Reply Like
  • Gary Jakacky
    , contributor
    Comments (2367) | Send Message
     
    Gee maybe Gleick and the global warmingists might want to adopt this strategy, if they haven't already.
    1 Mar 2012, 09:55 AM Reply Like
  • D-inv
    , contributor
    Comments (3768) | Send Message
     
    Nicely done, JP.
    1 Mar 2012, 11:13 AM Reply Like
  • Javaharv
    , contributor
    Comments (202) | Send Message
     
    JP, it is easy to get carried away with hype. That is why we love you, :-)
    1 Mar 2012, 03:52 PM Reply Like
  • Power Wizard
    , contributor
    Comments (5) | Send Message
     
    More hype than that.

     

    The capacity actually falls off sharply after a few cycles then barely hangs on to stay above 80% for only a few hundred cycles. This would not be useful in an EV since you would cycle the battery nearly every day. I'm guessing that'll blow their claim to reduce cost by half since you'll need to replace 2-3x as often.

     

    Also, they compared their cell in a light weight pouch to a cell in a metal case. The pouch will need to be encased in a metal structure to live in a vehicle. I'm thinking a real-world comparison would show little if any net improvement over existing products.
    1 Mar 2012, 05:57 PM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » These are very early stage prototypes and there's usually a lot of improvement along the development path. Since I learned ages ago that drilling down deeply into performance issues on particular battery chemistries is a great way to get out of my depth, I try to avoid making technical observations. I certainly appreciate your thoughts though.
    2 Mar 2012, 12:03 AM Reply Like
  • bangwhiz
    , contributor
    Comments (2224) | Send Message
     
    I think it is a sad commentary on Envia's management that they would plagiarize Lux Research's work and alter it as if it was Lux's characterization of their battery's development potential.

     

    JP3, you are entitled to your opinions, but claiming Envia's pure BS as progress is a reach beyond my comprehension.
    2 Mar 2012, 06:53 PM Reply Like
  • JRP3
    , contributor
    Comments (7426) | Send Message
     
    "The testing of Envia’s next-­‐generation lithium-­‐ion battery was performed by the Electrochemical Power Systems Department at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Crane, Ind., under the sponsorship of ARPA-­‐E."

     

    So you want to pretend that not only did Envia made up these claims but that the Navy and ARPA-E are also in on it? That is ridiculous beyond my comprehension. Their technology has been independently tested by a third party. You are getting much too worked up by a simple cropping of a graphic. It may not have been a good idea to do so but it has zero impact on the independently tested results of their product.
    3 Mar 2012, 09:01 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » Envia lied by distorting the Lux Research material. What the Naval Warfare Center did or did not do is irrelevant. You've had your say on Envia. Any further comments from you on this Instablog will be deleted.
    3 Mar 2012, 09:12 AM Reply Like
  • Freeyourchains
    , contributor
    Comments (16) | Send Message
     
    How is third party testing of manufacturing data irrelevant?

     

    If this was the case, every Nuclear Power Plant component in existence would be irrelevant to how the business and technology works.
    9 Apr 2013, 07:35 PM Reply Like
  • dixie
    , contributor
    Comments (276) | Send Message
     
    My savings are too dear to be entrusted to, "cheaters."
    3 Mar 2012, 05:37 PM Reply Like
  • aquaculture1
    , contributor
    Comments (354) | Send Message
     
    The Li-ion battery field keeps progressing. Electric drive will have a great future.
    4 Mar 2012, 02:50 PM Reply Like
  • froggey77
    , contributor
    Comments (2791) | Send Message
     
    Aquaculture
    Electric drive possibly yes.
    Batteries? No.
    7 Mar 2012, 05:17 PM Reply Like
  • henkmol
    , contributor
    Comments (30) | Send Message
     
    Hi John, I sent a small mail today but then I saw that you already treat the Envia story. So here's a modified version of my mail.
    In the engineering newsletters there is quite some upbeat on the claims from Envia and nobody is criticising them in these media. This made me very very wary. And it is sad that they are doing doubtful claims as you show from your evidence. What is their motivation to do so, after all investors are not uninformed neither are they stupid. So, are they trying to keep their financiers of today happy? What do they really own? Are they running on Argonne's patents, a 4M$ grant FY 2010, and investors including Asahi Glass and GM and a couple of venture capital companies?
    They claim they can reach 400 Wh/kg of gross capacity in a lithium ion battery, doubling the classical Lithium-cobalt-oxide / carbon system's peak capacity of about 200 Wh/kg. When you look through the slits of your eyes you would be tempted to believe that a battery cost which would be halved with big consequences for the battery cost in a plugin hybrid car or EV. GM is not reaching its targets with their Volt sales at all because of the cost of the battery compared to the performance offered. On our way to Utopia, the doubling the capacity of a battery without doubling the size weight and price for the consumer would greatly lighten our burden.
    When calculating the capacity of a battery you have two entities: mass normalised charge capacity expressed in mAh/g, and electrochemical potential in Volt. to multiply the electrochemical discharge voltage (V) with the discharge current capacity (mAh/g) to get the power density (mWh/g) which equates to the Wh/kg. The total battery current capacity Ct equates to Ct = 1/(1/Ca + 1/Cc + 1/Qm) where Ca is the current capacity of anode in mAh/g, Cc is that of the cathode and Qm is capacity due to the rest of the construction i.e. electrolyte, separator, current collectors, casing, and reserve active material in the battery. Typical cells for laptops and handheld gadgets are based on carbon anode / LiCoO2 cathode on aluminium and a lithium ionic fluid electrolyte, and they have capacities of 370, 135 and 130 respectively which leads to a net Ct of about 55 mAh/g. Using a electrochemical potential of 3.7 V we have ~205 Wh/kg on the cell level.
    A packaged battery with many cells, thermal control system, and charge/discharce cell balancing electronics adds weight and reduces the net capacity which then reaches then about 120 - 160 Wh/kg in laptops and smartphones and more to the area of 80 - 100 Wh/kg in the automobile systems.
    I have been reading into the silicon anode technology which is the key of the Envia story, and for as far I can understand is that they have indeed reached something which is predicted in scientific literature. Clearly, they demonstrated successfully a combination of a battery anode with silicon/carbon nano tubes in combination with a cathode in the form of "pouch" packed batteries. But, when charging a battery the lithium moves from cathode to the anode and the silicon transforms into a silicon-lithium alloy. The swell of this alloy is a staggering 4x when fully reaching its potential of Li22Si5 (allowing world record anode material though). The reacheable capacity of alloying is much less, i.e. about 1/4 of that of the ultimate value but still causing high level of swelling i.e. about 60%. The stress causes the silicon alloy to fracture and the battery loses a lot of capacity (30 - 70%) already in the first few charging cycles. From literature I understand that the swelling may be absorbed by creating silicon/carbon material where the silicon is structured in nano sized hollow tubes, and swelling seems to take place such the the material is mainly expanding inside the tubes, reducing the interior volume, without significantly expanding at the outside diameter. The tube length change which also adds to the structural stress is not clear to me yet. So, if this is their tech trick then it can we worth looking at.
    At least they seem to survive a few hundred cycles (i.e. less than 5% of the required cycling) but it starts to become technically interesting. However real batteries have more requirements. They are, I quote from a good review article of Kasavajjula et al, "constant volume devices that are constrained by non-yielding outer containers and the inside is essentially non-compressible", and swelling is therefore a big issue. So when Envia shows pouch cells it is by definition not a battery. It is a technology demonstrator for the anode/cathode combination and many years away from a product in your car, or more practically your lawn mower.
    My conclusion is that we shall follow the progress of science on the material side in particular. If the material science yields mechanically stable battery materials that allow charging, i.e. alloying, silicon with lithium without pulverising it under its own stress when doing so then we have a first step. Then looking at the technology for producing nano carbon tubes it may indeed be well possible to produce by tweaked processes from ordinary chemical industries the silicon nano tubes (why else is Asahi Glass interested?). If these conditions are met then we have the first step in the diversification of our transport fuel systems moving from the initial stage of the hype cycle into a "slope of enlightenment" as Gartner tells us.

     

    Regards Henk Mol

     

    References used: "Nano and bulk silicon based insurtion anodes for lithium ion secondary cells", U Kasavajjula et al, Journal of Power Sources 163 (2007) pp 1003-1039;
    "Silicon nanowire anode for lithium-ion batteries: fabrication, characterization and solid electrolyte interphase", Wanli Xu, PhD dissertation, Louisiana State University and Agriculture and Mechanical College, August 2011.
    Various presentations published by the Argonne lab.
    9 Mar 2012, 03:38 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » I posted the following reply to your PM and think it's equally relevant here. So I trust you'll forgive me for sharing it.

     

    Henk,

     

    As you may recall, I did the world's first carbon nanotechnology IPO in 1992. The company is now known as Applied Nanotech Holdings and it generated a whopping $6.5 million in revenue last year, mostly from contract research. The founder of that company is Dr. Howard Schmidt, one of the best nanotech hands on the planet who's been a dear friend for a very long time. I used Howard as an independent technical resource before getting involved with Axion and ultimately convinced him to take a seat on the board. His contributions to Axion have been priceless.

     

    The one thing my 20-year association with Dr. Schmidt has taught me is that structured nanomaterials can do magic in the laboratory but they are hideously difficult and expensive to commercialize. The one thing my 8-year association with Axion has taught me is that cost is everything in the battery industry and technologies that don't reduce the cost of storing a kWh of electricity don't stand a chance. Everyone wants better batteries but nobody wants to pay for them.

     

    When I read stories about companies like Envia that announce new miracles in the laboratory it invariably leads to the dual pronged questions of how much industrial engineering will be required to produce the miracle materials at relevant scale and what is the likely cost of the materials if they can overcome the engineering challenges.

     

    When I started with Axion one of the most highly regarded electrochemists on the planet was saying that the PbC could be the holy grail if we could figure out how to make the devices in volume at low cost. The science has never been a question and the battles have all revolved around industrial engineering. How do you make it cheap enough to compete in the market?

     

    As you read through the Envia stories, you see that parts of their technology may make it to production in a couple years but they don't expect a 400 wh/kg device until 2017. If my Axion experience is any kind of a guide, 2020 or 2025 is more likely – but only if everything works right and scaling production of a complex nanostructured material goes off without a hitch. Anything's possible, but I'm not going to hold my breath until I see cost-effective products rolling off a production line staffed by tech-school graduates in gimme caps.
    9 Mar 2012, 04:10 AM Reply Like
  • D-inv
    , contributor
    Comments (3768) | Send Message
     
    Henk, thanks for sharing your knowledge and thoughts on Envia report.
    9 Mar 2012, 09:53 AM Reply Like
  • KentG
    , contributor
    Comments (367) | Send Message
     
    Henk and JP, thanks for the free education. 8-)
    9 Mar 2012, 09:03 PM Reply Like
  • Freeyourchains
    , contributor
    Comments (16) | Send Message
     
    Thanks you for this reply, it is very insightful!

     

    Though unfortunately: Applied Nanotech Holdings Inc as of 4/09/13. $0.10 / share.

     

    Q3 (Sep '12) 2011
    Net profit margin -176.58% -39.62%
    Operating margin -157.94% -33.96%
    EBITD margin - -32.79%
    Return on average assets -230.92% -62.38%
    Return on average equity - -188.52%
    Employees 31
    9 Apr 2013, 07:35 PM Reply Like
  • henkmol
    , contributor
    Comments (30) | Send Message
     
    Hi John Thanks for quick reacion. So wait and see. But what is the role of the japanse investors in this company then. Are they just parking pension fees or are they part of their knowledge chain? i.e. are they supplying input like patents etc on silicon nano tube production and application?
    Regards Henk
    9 Mar 2012, 06:16 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » The Japanese are critical players in lithium-ion battery manufacturing technology. If you think back the industry got its start in Asia because cheap portable electronics needed better batteries. When it comes to making manufacturing equipment and components for lithium-ion battery plants, the Japanese are the only game in town. Without technical manufacturing expertise from Japan, Envia is just another science fair project.
    9 Mar 2012, 07:05 AM Reply Like
  • henkmol
    , contributor
    Comments (30) | Send Message
     
    BTW John, checking on their internet site they now show the original picture from Lux. Regards Henk
    9 Mar 2012, 06:52 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » I saw that and was very glad I copied the original while it was still on line. I've got a great working relationship with Lux, as so many others, but they're real sticklers for making sure that people who use their materials use them as published and without alteration.
    9 Mar 2012, 07:07 AM Reply Like
  • jstack6
    , contributor
    Comments (44) | Send Message
     
    Excellent data and realities. The Lithium batteries improve at a real world rate of 5% or so a year. That's not bad and when you take life cycle costs it's even better than any other battery chemistry.

     

    My Nissan LEAF batteries are 1 year old and perfect. Not one bit of trouble in record 110F days in Arizona with no cooling at all. Charging to just 80% will let them last a very long time.
    9 Apr 2012, 06:09 PM Reply Like
  • jstack6
    , contributor
    Comments (44) | Send Message
     
    LEAF owner for 1 year, always in the top 25 most efficient driven LEAF vehicles in the world. I also have GRID Tied solar and make more than I need with a little 4 Kw system here in Sunny Arizona.
    9 Apr 2012, 06:11 PM Reply Like
  • vandag
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
     
    I am hoping that Honda's Hydrogen fuel cell will bring us into the EV generation. Particularly their (Honda's) unit that converts natural gas to hydrogen. The unit purports to be an 'at-home' garage device that could be used in any present day gasoline station - probably in a larger size. Perhaps it could someday extract sufficient hydrogen from water. That would prove there is a G-d, since that Arabs largely live in desert waterless areas.
    21 May 2012, 01:47 PM Reply Like
  • factsonlypls
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
     
    From someone with direct, prior experience with this executive team, fact-less hype is something that you learn to expect. Can't help but wonder why those smart investors don't see the fantastic clothes on the Emperor. Perhaps a case of really wanting to believe in the story that one knows to be too good to be true. Only if they had Googled the players here before getting involved...
    19 Jun 2012, 02:36 AM Reply Like
  • Y Brandstetter MD
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
     
    All of the above proves Shai Agassi's point that the EV can succeed if you separate the car from the battery on the financial level. Anyone investing in the battery of today will have an obsolete car in 2 or five or ten years. While a car with a swap-able battery may actually improve performance over time, something impossible for the ICE car.
    9 Jul 2012, 08:43 AM Reply Like
  • John Petersen
    , contributor
    Comments (29176) | Send Message
     
    Author’s reply » By transitivity any company investing in a swappable battery today will have an obsolete inventory in two or five or ten years, and they'll be forced into bankruptcy because their foolish spending on soon to be obsolete batteries left them no other path.

     

    Shai Agassi isn't right, he's just another Barnum wannabe who knows there's one born every minute.
    9 Jul 2012, 09:55 AM Reply Like
  • Joseph 62
    , contributor
    Comments (3) | Send Message
     
    This world Revolves on Lies & deceit . It comes to me as No Surprise., Especially comming from someone partnered up with GM & Their VOLT whom they Call Full time EV..&...That the ICE 0nly powers the 0nboard Generator? 0nly ????........Ha Ha Ha to that !
    12 Feb 2013, 01:13 PM Reply Like
  • Battery wizard
    , contributor
    Comment (1) | Send Message
     
    Just cause a cell is made by a contract manufacturer in China, under full control of the parent company, to its exact specifications but done out of country to reduce costs does not disqualify the results of the tests. Your missing the point and your dead wrong in your assertions. I've seen these cells on a Maccor and they perform even better than the hype.
    15 Aug 2013, 02:45 AM Reply Like
  • DaniCar
    , contributor
    Comments (2) | Send Message
     
    Thanks so much for posting this! They now seem close to bankruptcy:
    http://bit.ly/1bdUgZQ
    3 Dec 2013, 05:25 PM Reply Like
  • DaniCar
    , contributor
    Comments (2) | Send Message
     
    They now appear to be bankrupt: http://bit.ly/1bdUgZQ

     

    Thanks so much for posting this!
    3 Dec 2013, 05:25 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (3675) | Send Message
     
    And it looks like part of their claimed "new" technology is actually coming from Shin-Etsu, very nasty (details in the link you provided).
    12 Dec 2013, 03:52 PM Reply Like
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