Researchers and development firms regularly reveal battery-technology breakthroughs.
Now, Envia Systems--one company that gained much public attention by promising such a breakthrough--faces two lawsuits. One claims that Envia stole its technology from other companies.
And General Motors, which invested $17 million into the company in January 2011, has canceled its deal with Envia altogether.
Headlines lead to GM deal
The company, formed in 2007, has made several headlines in recent years. Envia said it could increase the energy density of batteries by a third, yet do so for less money.
So strong was its promise that GM licensed Envia's advanced cathode material for use in future electric vehicles.
The motive was obvious--GM had just launched the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car to high acclaim, and was now seeking to secure its electric vehicle future by investing in companies promising huge battery technology improvements.
Then, in 2012, Envia made an even bolder claim: It could reduce the cost of the average electric vehicle by a third, down from $30,000 to $20,000, and that the same vehicle could offer 300 miles of range, up from the 80 or so of many modern electric cars.
The batteries use a Silicon-Carbon nanocomposite anode and High Capacity Manganese Rich nanocoated cathode. The nanotechnology used in the electrodes features a much greater surface area and greater energy density--a common theme throughout recent battery tech developments.
The claim was for 400 watt-hours per kilogram--when the contemporary Tesla Roadster had batteries with energy density of around 130 watt-hours per kilogram.
The Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy scheme, or ARPA-E, supplied a further $4 million grant to Envia--followed by a $1 million grant from the California Energy Commission.
Another firm's IP?
Court documents uncovered by GigaOm reveal that Envia allegedly used technology from another company in its batteries--one part allegedly stolen, the other purchased and used as if it was Envia's own.
The NanoeXa Corporation alleges that Envia co-founder Sujeet Kumar and two other executives used its nanotechnology intellectual property to start Envia.
The lawsuit also states that Kumar downloaded "over 99 files" and more than a gigabyte of confidential information before he left the company, and attempted to cover it up.
Envia: Lawsuits "baseless"
GigaOm reached out to Envia for comment, and the company's new PR firm responded, calling the allegations "baseless". It says NanoeXa has failed to produce "a shred of evidence" that it took trade secrets.
The company also dismisses claims of wrongful dismissal made by former Envia employee and CEO Atul Kapadia--saying that Kapadia originally supported Envia's position in the NanoeXa case yet is now using the same claims against the company in his own lawsuit.
Kapadia claims that Envia confidentially purchased some of its technology from Japanese firm Shin-Etsu--and that he and his business partner wasn't aware of this until a later date.
While all this has been brewing, General Motors cancelled its deal with Envia when the company failed to recreate its technology by summer 2013, according to GigaOm.
It reflects badly on GM's investments, but even more so on Envia--which must now face lawsuits rather than concentrating on producing its battery of the future. The lawsuits will determine whether that future technology was even theirs to develop.