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Canada: Energizing innovation in the battery market

Mississauga-based Electrovaya is a tiny company competing with much bigger entities such as A123 Systems, Panasonic and Samsung for a stake in the burgeoning global battery market. With 150 patents and an advanced lithium-ion technology that packs more energy into a smaller space, it is carving out a reputation for innovation.

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Recent deals to supply batteries to Chrysler for tests in hybrid Dodge Ram pickup trucks and Town and Country minivans helped boost Electrovaya’s profile. Still, founder and chief executive Sankar Das Gupta says the biggest market may be for large utility-scale storage batteries that will help make solar or wind power more viable.

How did you end up in the battery business?

I’m an electrochemist. A long time ago I invented a reactor to remove pollution from water. That company grew quite well, [then] the investing group sold it off. So I restarted again with a colleague, Jim Jacobs, whose mother was [urban activist] Jane Jacobs. [We started] making lithium batteries. In 2003 we were the first group to have a vehicle running with lithium ion batteries in North America.

Lithium-ion batteries’ inconvenient truth is that manufacturing them usually involves massive quantities of toxic chemicals. We developed a completely different system [and] that was one of the competitive advantages. The other was energy density – we managed to eke out a little bit more energy, so our cells tend to be a little bit smaller than competitors’.

How does U.S. public policy affect the enthusiasm for new battery technology?

Everybody is watching the November elections before jumping in. [People want] to see if there are more [U.S. federal] incentives [for electric car purchases], or if the incentives disappear. We don’t benefit from these directly, but we do benefit tangentially if [equipment manufacturers] are buying our stuff.
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