“We were able to synthesise a 30cm wide roll of material with an aluminium foil substrate on a roll to roll basis so it’s a continuous process, and I would say we are one of the most advanced, others are using a 10cm roll.
The process is derived from the photovoltaic process that is used for antireflective blue layers. The catalytic CVD process and the idea is to bring heat and specific chemistry to a specific place to create small bubbles on the surface so that the nanotubes grow from those bubbles. This can be performed on various substrates, copper, steel, even on carbon fibres but for ultracapacitors Nawa has chosen to use the aluminium substrate.
The 30cm width allows Nawa to build any type of ultracapacitor, either stacked or cylindrical. This is roughly half the width of lithium electrode systems at 650mm. The next generation machines currently in design will provide a wider roll, says Ulrik Grape, an industry veteran who joined in October as CEO to drive the business forward. He joins after having lead Californian solid-state lithium-ion battery start-up SEEO to an acquisition by Bosch. he was also CEO of EnerDel, one of the early leaders in lithium-ion batteries for automotive applications with customers such as Volvo Cars, Think and VanHool.
“We are taking a two step process,” said Grape. “Right now we are getting ready to invest in a full production line in the South France with modest volume production from some time next year that would allow us to deliver a complete ultracapacitor that could be used in power tools and material handling but that would also allow qualification for higher volume applications such as automotive. We are working with several equipment suppliers on the line equipment, and we should be have that in NAWA early next year, and that will be a larger width, progressing towards full scale product.”
The vertical nanocarbon rod design opens up new applications, he says. “We are seeing a lot of interest in hybrid batteries where you combine the ultracapcitor with a battery, and we also see the opportunity to supply electrodes,” he said. “We want to see our technology spread and are also looking at joint ventures and technology transfer.”
One of the target applications is automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that move materials around. Nawa is working with a Slovakian company where the AGV uses an ultracapacitor rather than abattery for power. It moves between charging points on the ground, essentially dots on the floor, and charges up the ultracapacitor in a matter of seconds. This gives three minutes of power before recharging.
This approach has already been extended to busses in China. “The idea is to recharge busses at each stop with automatic contact points – in Shanghai there are already two lines that use busses with ultracapacitors with stops every 500m, and it takes just 20s to recharge the bus,” said Boulanger. “The limitation is the charging station and the power from the grid.”
Hybrid designs allows the battery to be discharged more steadily to extend the life of the cell.
“What we are also addressing is the hybrid, where we can play with faradic and capacitive behaviour, keeping the structure as it is, and in that case we can reduce the cell discharge,” said Boulanger.
There is still a lot of education to do, says Grape.
“Any time you come with a new technology then you have to educate the customers and they have to understand the particular properties of the technology,” he said. “On power tools we already have good discussions with major companies, and in discussions with large automotive companies on hybrid solutions. I feel we are in a very good place with a good pipeline of companies in various segments which allows us to the optimistic about revenue opportunities from that production online next year as well as strong interest in high volume applications.”
The company is currently looking to raise funds from a mix of financial and industrial investors to sit alongside the existing venture capital funding as well as backing from strategic industrial investors, as the material is not just for ultracapacitors and batteries.
“The strategy is to spread the process across different industries, as it’s a very effective back coating and thermal coating, so we are looking at a wide range of partnerships with equipment suppliers,” said Boulanger.
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