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EnerG2 ultracapacitor plant eyes auto, grid storage

Start-up opens DOE-funded pilot facility to make nanomaterials optimized for energy storage in ultracapacitors and batteries for hybrid vehicles or grid storage.

Start-up EnerG2 on Tuesday dedicated a plant to manufacture material for ultracapacitors that can be used to store energy in vehicles and on the electricity grid.

The Seattle-based company, which was spun out of the University of Washington, received a $21.3 million Department of Energy grant last year to build the facility in Albany, Ore. The funding, which was given to companies pursuing advanced storage technologies, covered the bulk of the total $28.4 million needed to construct the facility.

To improve energy storage performance, EnerG2 is focusing on making nanotechnology materials for electrodes in ultracapacitors and batteries.
To improve energy storage performance, EnerG2 is focusing on making nanotechnology materials for electrodes in ultracapacitors and batteries. EnerG2

EnerG2 does not plan to make the actual storage devices, but instead make a material optimized for ultracapacitors, explained CEO and co-founder Rick Luebbe. It plans to sell its high-tech carbon material to energy storage companies but has not named any customers yet.

More companies are pursuing ultracapacitors for energy storage because they have different characteristics than batteries. By volume, batteries can store more energy but ultracapacitors can quickly charge and discharge electrical energy and they degrade very little over time.

The EnerG2 plant will make materials that will be used in the electrodes of ultracapacitors and batteries, Luebbe said. Right now, the activated carbon in ultracapacitors--the porous material that stores electrical charge--is typically derived from coconuts, he explained.

EnerG2's technology was developed to make activated carbon from industrial chemicals commonly used to make resins for particle board and engineered beams. Those chemicals are treated with catalysts to make a gel with a molecular structure that's optimized for use in ultracapacitors and other storage devices, Luebbe said.

The company expects that ultracapacitors will be used increasingly in hybrid electric vehicles. Large truck manufacturers, for example, are starting to use ultracapacitors, instead of batteries, for hybrids because stop-and-go driving wears out batteries quickly.

The grant helps scale up the business and bring down the cost of storage, Luebbe said. "We specifically chose to be a materials company, rather than a (storage) device maker because we feel like we can reach a much bigger market and target a huge range of form factors," he said.

Ultracapacitors and batteries could be used in a single vehicle with the batteries storing the energy for a longer range and the ultracapacitor providing power for acceleration and absorbing energy from regenerative braking. In grid storage, ultracapacitors on their own can be used for frequency regulation, where quick bursts of energy are needed to maintain a steady frequency or voltage, Luebbe said.