Ray Kubis — one of the most high profile names in the battery business — stepped down as president and managing director at Eco-Bat Technologies on October 30.
Kubis, citing family priorities and some other private interests to adjust to less global travel, chose to join the board of Gridtential, a start-up firm with a new bipolar lead acid battery.
He will continue as a non-executive board member for Eco-Bat and will also remain as an advisor. Howard Meyers, chairman of Eco-Bat and other senior management will act in an interim capacity.
“When I was approached by Gridtential I was intrigued by the firm,” Kubis told Batteries International. “Throughout my career I’ve always been interested in new products and positioning of products, and though many of these start-ups don’t stand the test of time, some do. And Gridtential looked as if it had both a great product, a good operations process strategy, as well as great people to work with.
“Bipolar batteries have always struck me as where the greatest potential for lead acid can be found, but also the most difficult to execute — and Gridtential have come up with a product that has overcome these difficulties.”
At its simplest, Gridtential’s battery — known as the Silicon Joule technology — replaces the metal grid in lead-acid batteries with a silicon substrate. The substrate is a spin-off from the mature production of silicon cells for the solar industry, yielding cost and quality advantages. (See picture of the battery interior.)
The firm’s chief executive, Christiaan Beekhuis, says the battery has more than two times the available energy for the same weight, double the cycle life at 80% depth of discharge and twice the discharge speed but with the same efficiency.
“Gridtential is able to target a $100/kWh installed price for its drop-in lead-based battery replacement.”
Perhaps most interesting for lead acid battery manufacturers is the fact that making the new batteries requires only minor modifications to the existing production line — the early processes of paste mixing and curing are unchanged as is the high investment charging or formation equipment.
“The process changes for battery makers occur in the substrate manufacturing and plate assembly, that makes the product a manageable suitable transition for a range of battery makers” says Kubis.
“With respect to the plate making and assembly I expect some of the high-end battery machine manufacturers to step up here to produce high-spec, high speed lines.
“To date two battery firms are serious players that are well down the road in their evaluation of our product and four others are in the process of starting to evaluate the product.”
Gridtential’s business model is based on licensing the technology to customers which makes its initial capital requirements comparatively light.
“Initially we’re focusing on licensing firms involved in the diverse industrial and specialty markets,” he says. “These are the ones that are easiest to bring in as adopters, and some of the markets most challenged by lithium batteries.
“But the eventual aim is to tap into the huge automotive sector. However, given the long testing times that they demand — often up to five years — this won’t be an immediate target for the firm.”
One interesting perspective of the licensing model and the fact that the Gridtential technology can be fitted into existing battery manufacturing lines in the world is that it creates the possibility of the industry as a whole providing an almost immediate counter-balance to the so-called “gigafactory” of Tesla.
Lead battery gigafactories could be just a couple of years away.
Kubis’ main responsibilities on the board will be two-fold — providing the technical and commercial expertise from a lifetime of experience in the industry as well as acting as an ambassador for Gridtential.
The fact that such a well known battery figure as Ray Kubis is joining the firm is a huge endorsement to Gridtential’s credentials.
Kubis will work with the CEO — Christian Beekhuis, co-founders Peter Borden and Michele Klein, and other board members.
Beekhuis, joined the company in 2011. In 2003 Beekhuis was chief technology officer and founder of Fat Spaniel Technologies a provider of renewable energy performance monitoring services. In 2010, Fat Spaniel Technologies was sold to Power-One, a California-based power management company.
Borden advises on renewable energy product strategies, and is on the energy advisory board of two venture capital funds. Previously, with the company Applied Materials, he developed both silicon and thin film technologies in the Solar Business Group. He was involved in the design production of equipment now being implemented for silicon solar cell manufacturing.
The firm is a spin-off from research funded by the California Energy Commission where Borden helped develop the battery.
From 2006-2010, Klein was senior director of Applied Ventures, the venture capital arm of Applied Materials, where she was responsible for renewable energy and energy storage. She has invested in nine new companies and has sat on the boards of seven companies, including Enphase Energy and Infinite Power Solutions.
Added to the mix is Ed Schummer as chief licensing officer who joined in August. Schummer was one of Dolby Laboratories licensing pioneers and was instrumental in shaping Dolby’s first-in-kind licensing model, widely credited for parlaying a once obscure, but novel, noise reduction technology into a global quality mark.
Gridtential is also supported by an advisory board.
Gridtential says the licensed technology will take some time to mature through the existing battery companies. Yet, some products may mature as soon as late 2016 but probably more likely later than that.
Kubis says this timeline shouldn’t deflect attention from what he believes is the next big trend in the lead acid industry.
“Perhaps it’s best to put this into context,” he says. “In the past 30 years we’ve seen two major technology platforms that have had an enormous impact on the lead based battery business.
“The first has been in the huge advances in way the electrode has been developed, the casting and punching ever thinner and better components in continuous processes. The second has been the impact of the VRLA or semi-sealed products across all markets in the industry.”
Kubis says he sees the two fertile areas in the coming years as being: “the increasing use of additives and doping in bringing out the potential of lead acid batteries for greater power, greater cycling at partial state of charge and more.
“The second is the maturation of bipolar technology which can deliver lighter and higher performing batteries. We’re going to see a lot of further changes here.”
Kubis warns however that the lead acid battery business is in danger of becoming irrelevant in the face of the rapid advances made in lithium.
“In one sense,” he says, “I’m cheering for everything that is positive to do with enabling better and more effective energy storage — it’s so important to contribute so many goals around energy efficiency and sustainability for the future for us and our children — so that extends to progress being made with lithium too.
“However, it would be a shame to see the lead battery business disappear under the onslaught from lithium. In the past year the amount of money going into lithium research is probably the equivalent of the past 20 years of research into lead. We need to correct this.”
Kubis also confesses himself worried about the continuing emphasis that governments are placing restrictions on life — in particular in Europe the End of Life Directive which is restrictive to lead, which is more than adequately recycled — while leaving lithium unscathed, regardless its challenges around safety and recycling at end of life of use of those batteries.
Further research with Sandia
Gridtential has secured grants from the California Energy Commission and the US Department of Energy’s battery lab for further research and testing. In July Gridtential was selected as one of a handful of companies to pursue validation analysis at Sandia’s Energy Storage Analysis Laboratory.
The grant is designed to further the DOE’s research into grid storage and coincides with Gridtential’s completion of 140 alpha units based on its Silicon Joule technology.
Gridtential says: “Flying in the face of Tesla’s recent declaration that lead acid is dead, recent independent tests have confirmed that Gridtential’s silicon-based approach to advance traditional lead acid significantly improves performance, while utilizing 40% less lead.
At Sandia, the test plan is designed to address two use case scenarios.
Peak shaving cycling. In compliance with Sandia’s standard test protocols, Gridtential’s batteries will run through a standard peak shaving application. Gridtential says it expects each to reach nearly 100% SOC after each charge cycle and 80-100% depth of discharge.
Partial state of charge (PSoC) cycling. To gain a view of Gridtential’s long-term performance in a PSoC environment, Sandia will charge the battery to 100% SOC and then begin cycling it at a medium rate which is designed to bring sulphation issues to light very quickly.