THE CLAIRE FOSS JOURNAL
SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0 Magazine) -- The Disruptor: EEStor
The Innovation: A ceramic power source for electric cars that could blow away the combustion engine
The Disrupted: Oil companies and carmakers that don't climb aboard
Forget hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles. EEStor, a stealth company in Cedar Park, Texas, is working on an "energy storage" device that could finally give the internal combustion engine a run for its money -- and begin saving us from our oil addiction. "To call it a battery discredits it," says Ian Clifford, the CEO of Toronto-based electric car company Feel Good Cars, which plans to incorporate EEStor's technology in vehicles by 2008.
EEStor's device is not technically a battery because no chemicals are involved. In fact, it contains no hazardous materials whatsoever. Yet it acts like a battery in that it stores electricity. If it works as it's supposed to, it will charge up in five minutes and provide enough energy to drive 500 miles on about $9 worth of electricity. At today's gas prices, covering that distance can cost $60 or more; the EEStor device would power a car for the equivalent of about 45 cents a gallon.
And we mean power a car. "A four-passenger sedan will drive like a Ferrari," Clifford predicts. In contrast, his first electric car, the Zenn, which debuted in August and is powered by a more conventional battery, can't go much faster than a moped and takes hours to charge.
The cost of the engine itself depends on how much energy it can store; an EEStor-powered engine with a range roughly equivalent to that of a gasoline-powered car would cost about $5,200. That's a slight premium over the cost of the gas engine and the other parts the device would replace -- the gas tank, exhaust system, and drivetrain. But getting rid of the need to buy gas should more than make up for the extra cost of an EEStor-powered car.
EEStor is tight-lipped about its device and how it manages to pack such a punch. According to a patent issued in April, the device is made of a ceramic powder coated with aluminum oxide and glass. A bank of these ceramic batteries could be used at "electrical energy stations" where people on the road could charge up.
EEStor is backed by VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and the company's founders are engineers Richard Weir and Carl Nelson. CEO Weir, a former IBM-ER, won't comment, but his son, Tom, an EEStor VP, acknowledges, "That is pretty much why we are here today, to compete with the internal combustion engine." He also hints that his engine technology is not just for the small passenger vehicles that Clifford is aiming at, but could easily replace the 300-horsepower brutes in today's SUVs. That would make it appealing to automakers like GM (Charts) and Ford (Charts), who are seeing sales of their gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks begin to tank because of exorbitant fuel prices.