EnerG2 Wins $21.3M in Stimulus Funding to Build Ultracapacitor Materials Plant in Oregon

Seattle-based EnerG2, an advanced materials startup focused on energy storage, has scored a $21.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a new manufacturing plant in Albany, OR. The funds are part of a total of $2.4 billion in federal stimulus grants announced today to speed up the manufacturing and development of next-generation batteries, energy storage technologies, and electric vehicle components. (Check out the map of all 48 awardees here.)

EnerG2, a University of Washington spinout, is developing novel nano-scale materials to make better ultracapacitors. These are devices that can store and release large amounts of energy much faster than conventional batteries, and with longer lifetimes. Ultracapacitors are typically used in electric and hybrid vehicles, forklifts, and cranes. Their performance depends on the materials used to make their electrodes—and that is where EnerG2 comes in with its unique concoction of synthetic carbon nanomaterials.

The U.S. Department of Energy has great interest in companies like EnerG2 that seek to improve energy storage and efficiency more broadly. That’s partly because as more alternative energy sources come online, they will require technologies that can deal with the natural peaks and valleys of that kind of power generation.

“This is obviously an exciting turn of events for EnerG2,” says Chris Wheaton, the company’s co-founder and chief operating and financial officer. “It’s a great confirmation of the role ultracapacitors can play in the automotive industry, as well as the role that materials science can play in helping the country achieve our energy efficiency goals for the future.”

EnerG2 will work together with Oregon Freeze Dry, one of its manufacturing partners, to build the new plant, which Wheaton says will be the first in the world dedicated to commercial-scale production of high-performance synthetic carbon materials. Wheaton adds that construction is expected to take about 18 months, and the new plant should create 25 to 50 new jobs in Linn County, OR. As for why EnerG2 wants to build the plant in Oregon, he says, “[Oregon Freeze Dry] have both the skills and the land that make it an ideal place to situate this facility. They’re already our partner.”

Better ultracapacitors could potentially have a big impact on electric and hybrid vehicles. EnerG2 co-founder and CEO, Rick Luebbe, told me last fall that ultracapacitors could be used to get 150,000 miles out of a plug-in hybrid car battery. Wheaton says vehicles will use a combination of a battery and an ultracapacitor. The latter is used to accelerate the car and store braking energy, while the battery gives you longer driving range. “The ultracapacitor makes the whole system more efficient,” Wheaton says. “It makes the battery last longer and not need to be as big and expensive.”

EnerG2 is backed by OVP Venture Partners, Firelake Capital, Yaletown Venture Partners, WRF Capital, University of Washington, Washington Technology Center, the Sustainability Investment Fund, Northwest Energy Angels, and the Frontier Angel Fund. Back in October, the company raised $8.5 million led by OVP and Firelake. That funding round was augmented by an additional $2.5 million investment in June, which brought in Vancouver, BC-based Yaletown as a new investor.

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