GM-backed startup reports battery breakthrough

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DETROIT (Feb. 28, 1:35 p.m. ET) — A startup backed by General Motors claims it has developed a breakthrough lithium ion battery that could slash the cost of electric vehicles.

Envia Systems said today that it has produced lighter, more powerful battery cells than cells now used in EVs. The Newark, Calif., company said the technology could reduce by more than half the cost of a battery pack in an EV with a 300-mile electric range.

“There is this enormous race going on” to develop higher-density batteries, which are considered the key to making less-costly EVs that can go longer distances between charges, Envia CEO Atul Kapadia said in an interview. “What we’ve done is leapfrog all existing technologies.”

Envia said its advanced cathode technology enables its battery to produce 400 watt-hours per kilogram, at an estimated cost of $125 per kilowatt-hour. Batteries used in EVs today produce 80 to 150 watt-hours per kilogram, at a cost of $250 to $350 per kilowatt hour, Envia says.

Envia could have the technology in commercial production by 2014, Kapadia said. He said several automakers are evaluating its technology, including “major” players in Japan, Korea and the United States.

The company said that the performance of its battery was independently tested by the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indiana.

In January 2011, GM’s venture-capital arm invested $7 million in Envia, which raised an additional $10 million from several other investors.

Kapadia said GM remains Envia’s largest investor and is the “most aggressive and most enthusiastic” automaker interested in its battery, although GM does not have contractual rights to the technology.

Jon Lauckner, who last week was named GM’s chief technology officer, sits on Envia’s board of directors. Lauckner also is president of GM Ventures.