Ioxus targets auto sector with new appointment

Ioxus ultracapacitors are being targeted at the automotive sector. Nissan is one of the manufacturers currently incorporating ultracapacitors into its vehicles.

Ioxus ultracapacitors are being targeted at the automotive sector. Nissan is one manufacturer currently incorporating ultracapacitors into its vehicles. Photo credit: Animam.

The ultracapacitor company Ioxus last week reinforced its automotive sector focus by naming ex-General Motors (GM) executive Don Runkle the chairman of the board.

Runkle’s experience includes having been GM’s top engineering executive as vice president of the company’s North American Engineering Center.

He was previously chief engineer of Chevrolet, chief engineer of powertrain and racing at the Buick Division, director of advanced vehicle engineering and vice president of GM’s advanced engineering staff.

Latterly Runkle worked as chief technology officer at the UK parts manufacturer Delphi Automotive, where he was also leader for the DaimlerChrysler and commercial vehicle customer teams.

“Ioxus has been on my radar for some time,” said Runkle in a press release.

“They clearly have the strongest technology in the ultracap space, with higher energy and power densities, higher temperature capability, more innovative module designs and both cylindrical and pouch-cell experience.”

Growing market expectations

The appointment comes amid growing market expectations for ultracapacitor (or ‘supercapacitor’) technologies in the automotive sector.

According to analyst estimates, the ultracapacitor market as a whole is due to hit USD$20.2bn by 2018, largely due to the technology’s use in electrical smart meters.

However, companies such as Ioxus see the automotive industry as potentially having the greatest market potential for their products.

“Historically transportation has been the big push,” said Chad Hall, Ioxus co-founder and senior vice president of sales and marketing, in an interview with Energy Storage Report last month.

“About six manufacturers use ultracapacitors for different things.”

Incorporating ultracapacitors into models

Peugeot, Mazda, Lamborghini, Honda, Nissan and Toyota have all started incorporating ultracapacitors into certain models, particularly for stop-start and breaking power harvest applications.

The technology is still far from established in the automotive sector, however. Even Elon Musk, who famously gave capacitors the thumbs-up in 2011, is still sticking to batteries for his Tesla models for now.

One of the problems facing Ioxus and other ultracapacitor manufacturers, such as Maxwell Technologies and Sunvault Energy, is a lack of familiarity the technology.

“Most customers do not understand how to use capacitors,” Hall said. “There is a very low ultracapacitor literacy rate. There’s also extensive partnerships with battery companies that have been there for years.”

This perhaps explains why car manufacturers have been slow to adopt ultracapacitors even though advocates say it could vastly improve performance if used alongside batteries or fuel cells in low-carbon emissions vehicles.

Much-hyped developments

That ‘alongside’ is important, though. Despite much-hyped developments in ultracapacitor technology, Hall does not suggest ultracapacitors should be used in place of batteries or fuel cells.

“To use capacitors properly, in most cases it’s hybridised energy storage, letting capacitors handle power and batteries do the energy,” he said.

Ultracapacitors and batteries work well together because they have complementary characteristics. Ultracapacitors can store and discharge large amounts of power very quickly and efficiently, with almost no degradation.

Batteries, on the other hand, can store much more energy over longer periods of time.

That makes ultracaps more suited to providing shorter, stronger bursts of energy, for example during acceleration, and batteries better at delivering slower, sustained discharges.

Fewer battery replacements

The net result is electric vehicles that combine batteries and ultracapacitors should be able to travel further, more efficiently, with fewer battery replacements.

And there is some evidence that if ultracapacitors are combined with fuel cells the benefits may be even greater. Nevertheless, Hall said: “The full value proposition requires crossing silos.

“You have to have someone who understands they are looking at a full-system efficiency rather than just a big energy bank.”

At Ioxus, they will no doubt be hoping the new chairman is that someone.

As the company’s CEO, Mark McGough, said: “Don brings more than three decades of executive-level automotive experience in a career filled with innovation and successes, and this makes him an exceptional fit for our vision.”

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