Ian Clifford is the CEO of Toronto-based Zenn Motor Company (ZNN.V). His company has a unique relationship with the secretive and fascinating Texas startup called EEStor. EEStor was founded by Dick Weir and Carl Nelson who have worked in hard disc manufacturing for decades. Ten years ago they first began promoting a new energy storage material they created and obtained patents on. The material represents what would be understated as a highly disruptive technology. It has the potential to store extremely large amounts of energy in a very small size and weight, that could be packaged into batteries that could propel cars for hundreds of miles. These batteries would have no leakage of current, recharge extremely rapidly, operate over a wide range of temperatures and have an infinite lifetime as they are not subject to degradation as lithium ion batteries are. And if that isn't enough they cost a fraction of what lithium-ion batteries do to produce and depend on a far more abundant natural resource, barite.
The electric car universe has been waiting for this breakthrough material to arrive for years now, but according to Clifford that day will be very soon upon us.
Zenn Motors has the exclusive right to use the batteries called EESUs in vehicles up to 1500 kg and for retrofitting existing 4 wheel vehicles with what is called a ZENNergy drive powertrain.
In recent weeks EEStor publicly proved their material had the permittivity they claimed and Zenn confirmed it with their own third party testing. Clifford noted this milestone "triggered our $700,000 payment to make on our technology agreement with EEStor, and it also triggered an option to further extend our equity position with EEStor which we did."
"We moved our ownership stake from around 3.8% to around 10.7% and at the same time we also just concluded a 9.3 million dollar equity raise in Zenn Motor Companies," he said.
Asked if these permittivity milestone increased Clifford's confidence in EEStor he said "Absolutely. According to EEStor it was really the last scientific hurdle achieved and now they’re just flat out working towards commercial product. "
Clifford confided that his company frequently visits EEStor's Austin production plant and notes "we see their progress on a regular basis."
"They started their commercial buildout in 2006 and have continued to dramatically ramp up their production capability," he says. "The unique thing than Zenn other than Lockheed Martin has is access to the facility and the very demonstrative indication of their progress. And we see very clearly where they are at and how they’re progressing. So it’s a somewhat unique visibility that we have on their technology."
About the plant Clifford notes "this is a full production facility here."
"Often people are saying there is no facility or assembly line but this is simply not the case," he says. "They’re building a state of the art pilot production plant that is very significant. Lots of people have seen it, it’s not just us."
Clifford won't say if he's seen working devices because of a non-disclosure agreement, and won't say how much capacity the EEStor plant might have. He does note "it's very very scalable. They build a relatively small production line, then replicate that line. So they don’t build massive amounts of line. They basically take a small model line and they replicate it over and over and over again to increase volume." Clifford says this strategy is typical for how hard-discs are manufactured, indicating these batteries have analogous architectural features.
Perhaps the most dramatic part of this compelling story is that we are apparently near the dawn of public demonstration of the technology.
"EEStor made the public statement that they anticipate having at-voltage components verified independently by September of this year and delivery of production prototype EESUs to us by then end of 2009," says Clifford.
Clifford like us is waiting. His cars apparently have sockets in them designed specifically to accept those EESUs when they arrive. "We're building to accept it and their building to fit," he says. And then we will soon see those cars in action. "It will be clearly be demonstrated around the world in 2010 and commercialization is really just a question of how quickly EEStor ramps," he says. "We believe we'll be able to sell everything they can produce."
So how confident is Clifford this will all come to be imminently?
"I made that clear on how I voted with my own money my company’s supportiveness and the amount of support we’ve gotten from the financial community," he says. "We’re very confident."
Read full transcript of interview here: GM-Volt.com