Aquion Energy returns to business, announces new mystery owner

Bankrupt saltwater battery firm Aquion Energy has emerged from the ashes following its sale by auction in June, the company announced on July 21.

The firm says the new majority-American joint venture, with new chief executive Philip Juline, has resumed operations after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy rules.

Philip Juline is probably the user name of Philip Zhang, the chairman and chief executive of Juline Capital. Zhang, who was educated in China, did a masters in business administration at Michigan University. There is a connection in that the inventor of the technology behind Aquion is Jay Whitacre — CTO and co-founder of the company — who did his PhD in materials science at Michigan University.

Juline said the company will refocus on technology and “go-to-market opportunities … with a renewed focus on expanding our product offerings into the growing markets in China and other global markets”.

Aquion had said it made the safest batteries in the world, with its Aspen batteries using aqueous hybrid-ion technology.

The company appeared to enjoy a meteoric rise, shipping its batteries commercially and confirming installations in Japan, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Australia and California.

It had a string of well-known investors, including Microsoft chief Bill Gates, Shell, Total, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Bright Capital.  In all, some $190 million had been invested in the company, say media reports.

The history of the firm has been chequered. Just a week after announcing its biggest battery installation in Japan, in March, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

At the auction in June, Aquion was bought by the entity known as Juline-Titans LLC for $9.16 million. One media source said the firm was set up at the end of May as a Delaware-listed company. A Delaware listing provides preferential tax treatment to overseas investors.

Little is yet known about the new owner of the company, while there was speculation that Titans was a Chinese company. Another Chinese company, Enpower Energy, had underbid Titans by $50,000, according to a statement.