A low cost high performance battery is commonly described as the Holy Grail for today’s intensive energy using world. And a Czech inventor believes he has come up with just that battery by applying nano technology to the way traditional batteries are produced. And to prove the point, the first production line producing those batteries has been launched in Prague.
The launch of the new battery production line at Letňany in the northern suburbs of the Czech capital at what up till nine months ago was a car wash and car repair yard could. If its founder is proved right, the moment could be looked back on in decades to come as a milestone for mankind.
For several decades now, the development of renewable power has continued and some believe that the best renewables are now reaching a stage where they can compete effectively with traditional fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil.
But the big drawback it that solar and wind power flows are irregular and intermittent and cannot be effectively stored immediately on site. They are often produced far from population centres and transporting the power from source to consumer is expensive, disruptive, and wasteful.
At the other end of the energy equation, many of the batteries being used now to power cars, bikes, or even save some of the power from solar panels are big, bulky, still expensive to produce, and have limited energy saving capacity.
Jan Procházka is the Czech inventor that started working on revolutionising battery design in 2009. Part of the revolution is based on the fact that the new battery is constructed a bit like a multiple layer sandwich whereas conventional batteries have a vertical formation.
“In comparison to Tesla’s factory in Nevada, it is one half of that capacity.”
And the result is a much more efficient, low cost – in fact up to eight times cheaper - and more powerful battery than those currently on the market. The strategy at the moment is to push ahead with production of two types of batteries to meet market demands. The first, and the main target for customers at the moment, is a robust and slower loading battery that would serve as storage for solar panels.
The second is a faster charging battery that could be used for electric cars. Eventually, larger batteries could be produced that could power buses and long distance lorries. There are already contacts with major energy and car companies worldwide but that’s an area where the founders and backers are a bit shy of discussing just now.
And one of the major claims of the battery is that it will be a lot safer in electric cars – it doesn’t overheat and doesn’t explode. A video accompanying the production launch shows Jan Procházka attacking the battery with apparent gusto and enjoyment with a sledgehammer and an electric drill without any unfortunate results.
Mr. Procházka explained that while the market potential and production costs are compelling it has still been a major effort since he founded the company HE3DA in 2009 to push ahead with the development of the battery.
“A lithium battery, even when you make it cheap, is still a very expensive hobby. When we talk about comparisons with the traditional technologies, we need about 20 times less investment cost. So, the expenses are much lower, but they are still in the hundreds of millions of euros.”
The almost science fiction looking Prague initial production line with robotic production is very much a showcase for the company at the moment to prove that the battery can be made. It has a production capacity of just 10 MWh a year. But the plans go much further than that, in the first instance a new factory to produce the batteries should be created just outside the eastern Czech industrial city of Ostrava. Jan Procházka again:
“The company is Czech and hopefully will remain Czech.”
“Ostrava will have [production capacity of] about 250 MWh a year. In comparison to Tesla’s factory in Nevada, it is one half of that capacity. So it is not small, it is reasonable. What we want to do, next to our own production of batteries we want to sell the production equipment together with the licenses. That will be globally available to people.”
And there are fairly well advanced plans for another factory in Slovakia, just across the Czech border, with local Slovak investors already on board. And there will be other production plants in Germany and Spain. These will mainly target the European and US markets. The overall strategy is to demonstrate that the battery can be produced in various countries and then sell on the licensing rights and production know-how as demand develops worldwide.
Much of this production roll out is being fund by local investors. One of the co-owners of the mother company is Radomir Prus, a businessman formerly in charge of the Excelsior Group, which specialized in recycling plastic bottles. He claims a series of successful start-ups behind him. The Czech-based Solideus investment found, which specialises in technology investments, is also on board. Procházka retains a stake of around a fifth in the mother company.
In China a special joint venture company has been formed for production to take off there. But the same strategic principle applies of keeping the rights to the patents and know-how although the Chinese had been more than willing to buy up everything and centralise worldwide battery production there. Jan Procházka:
“Even to the Chinese, we have not sold a majority. The company is Czech and hopefully will remain Czech.”
The Czech development and investment route is one that found a lot of favour with deputy minister of industry and trade, Eduard Muřický, who attended the launch.
“The most attractive thing about this is that what has been chosen is a totally Czech path. These are Czech ideas and the people that came up with them have decided on their own way forwards and that is simply that they will not sell the idea. And that is something that you don’t see that often in today’s world.”
“…They will not sell the idea. And that is something that you don’t see that often in today’s world.”
And minister Muřický sees another major plus from the potential development of the new batteries in the Czech Republic if plans for mining lithium reserves in the north of the country bear fruit in the next few years.
“The Czech Republic has the biggest lithium reserves in Europe. I would really welcome it if the lithium that is mined in the future – and I firmly believe that it will be – is not exported but is processed in the Czech Republic. That’s if everything turns out right in the end.”
Jan Procházka’s innovation and developments – he has also pioneered another nano innoivation which allows a specially developed paint to take air pollution out of the atmosphere – is also seen as a wider boost for the broader Czech nano industry which has already established a reputation as one of the most advanced in the world. Jiří Kůs is the chairman of the Czech Nanotechnology Industries Association.
“We do understand nano technology. We were one of the first countries that started to apply nano technology to industry processes and manufacturing. We were pioneers in nanotechnology and in so many words were nano supermen. One of those supermen was Jan Procházka and his 3D nano battery which has an inorganic nano layer. It is a ground breaking breakthrough and we should be proud of this discovery and what he has achieved. I hope that it all turns out well and all those in our small country can just hope that we will be one of the world leaders in nano technology.”
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