Expert Interviews

Interview about Energy Storage Startups | Shailesh Upreti, President, C4V New York

ees International interviewed Shailesh Upreti, President of C4V, about the development of the company, the specific characteristics of this startup and features and  developments planned for the future. C4V™ is an intellectual property company based in Binghamton, New York, with expertise and patented discoveries in lithium-ion battery composition and manufacture.

C4V leverages its expertise in electrode design and process development to create next-generation storage materials that can be seamlessly integrated into current cell manufacturing lines. The underlying materials science of C4V’s patented inventions boasts robust crystal structures that enable high voltage operations, in addition to superior corrosion resistance that enhances battery performance, while reducing the cost of ownership. C4V’s patented molecules allow to extract the best performance on the system level.

Over the last several years, C4V has worked alongside a commercial supply chain to fine-tune the compositions, chemical structures, particle morphologies, and electrode processing techniques for tailored applications such as EVs, grid back-up, aviation, and portable electronics. C4V’s patented materials, which provide exceptional tunable battery performance, are now undergoing a GWh scale production with C4V’s supply chain partners and manufacturing spin-off.

ees International: What does the C4V technology roadmap look like? Tell us more about C4V’s  pathway to the market and the cost.

BMLMP is a phosphate-based composite cathode that utilizes low-cost materials, molecular doping of lithium rich bio-mineral in super-cell of crystal structure, and contains neither cobalt nor nickel. In independent testing by the New York City Fire Department, it delivered leading safety standards (heat as well as affluent) when compared to batteries from world-class manufacturers such as LG. Fig. 1

ees International: Improving one performance element usually leads to a sacrifice of another. How would you evaluate the C4V technology with this rule of thumb?

Due to drop-in manufacturing nature, lower cost plus less volatile supply chain (no involvement of Cobalt and Nickel) and higher voltage per cell when combined together leads to a very balanced cell that can be fine-tuned for power or energy market without sacrificing the cost and lifetime. Fig. 2

ees International: Many battery startups have failed, why will C4V succeed?

C4V is not dependent on one single technology, one single supplier or one single customer. C4V founding companies bring extensive high speed and high precision manufacturing, technology, and a business development background to derisk various possible areas a new technology, or capital intensive business like this, could face. A quick example of this is, without raising hundreds of millions of dollars, C4V New York would soon be producing GWh scale batteries. C4V New York has been able to pull vey reputable partners such as Siemens, Celgard, Megtec, etc. along with 45+ more companies to work together, with equal motivation, and bring respective expertize to balance out the risk of volume manufacturing. Having a cost effective, ex-China supply chain and partnership of several unicorn groups makes this project unique. The involvement of the inventor of the lithium-ion battery, and 150+ years of cumulative experience of executive team in lithium-ion battery, bring extensive learning from failures along, which would catalyze the growth of C4V New York. 

ees International: How has C4V solved its technological challenges in the past?

Tech challenges (or for that matter engineering or scale-up or manufacturing or qc challenges) are always unique based on my experience; however, there are always learnings from the past that one needs to leverage to mitigate the risk associated with these challenges. My experiences at C4V have provided me with a lot of lessons. The first thing we learned throughout the process over the last 15 years is, don’t bring disruption to the manufacturing floor. It is heavy capital investment business, and any minor change in processes or machinery costs hundreds of millions on the manufacturing floor, and create quality and cost risk (GE’s Durathon or Sodium ion Aquion are quick examples). The second thing we learned is to continue dating with your supply chain throughout your development and testing phase. Even smaller changes in design or process leads to major imbalance in quality control (A123 is the best example). The third aspect we learned is to develop products with strategic customers, even if it is a small customer in a tiny little segment. This tiny little segment could open a wider panorama to expand if qualification process is fast and repeat orders are visible (Alevo could be an example here). So while we are developing technology, we kept ourselves at the center of the supply chain and market to make sure we bring a new product and technology to market without any major imbalance in the system.

ees International: How is the company making sure to keep up the speed of development and to bring innovation in a timely manner?

A combination of the right talent plus folks who can instill processes to ensure risk mitigation in engineering/scale-up/manufacturing/QC etc., (DfX) will be essential to ensure a rapid time-to-revenue and rapid time-to-profitability. Hiring the right folks in the very beginning is essential to building the company as the chain effect proceeds. We have been able to identity such talent from various different segments and brought them to the development team at C4V and now to the manufacturing team in C4V as well.

ees International: How is the company making sure it has the right pool of talents and what is it doing to expand that for manufacturing processes?

We are tech founders, so the very first thing we have done is to bring right manufacturing partnerships together and form a world class advisory board, all from a technical as well as a commercial background. As a second step we hired manufacturing experts that bring experience in bringing new technologies or products to market. It requires very different skill sets to scale Vrs managing an already scaled business. We have been able to attract people from companies like GM, Tesla, etc., that are now attracting middle-management and creating a chain process to build fully organized structure over the next 18–24 months. We have been lucky to be liked by various smart people due to our innovative approach, transparency and cohesive approach where our overall vision is well defined.

ees International: Is the C4V technology scalable and how does C4V plan to achieve its targets?

The strategy is to have the right partnerships for each target market, up as well down the value chain. We are enabling that by creating partnerships for the top 2 target markets now (Stationary and Automotive). C4V has been able to attract about 45+ supply chain companies to partner with us for various technologies as well as components, and in parallel have signed sales contracts with small- and mid-sizde companies on the customer side for the batteries that will be produced by C4V New York. This balance approach, along with the drop-in nature of technology, allows C4V to scale production with fairly good speed. C4V New York recently acquired Alevo manufacturing equipment, which has been moved from North Carolina to New York. The next phase is to integrate C4V/Magnis and other supply chain components/technology to that manufacturing line to demonstrate scale. Once we validate our ability to mass-produce from the New York plant, we see a limited number of barriers to scale this technology.

ees International: How easy would it be for a competitor to replicate C4V battery technology?

There is IP (issued patents), plus there is the trade secret and know how. C4V patents fall under the composition of matter landscape, and such patents are very difficult to breach, plus it is easy to identify should there be any breach by others. In addition, lot of process know how, trade secrets on the supply chain, component engineering and know-how on a specific design that exists in C4V, which has been made available for licensing to C4V. In order for our molecules to work best in a specific system, these all (design, engineering, process, supply chain and high yield integration) need to work jointly, otherwise it would be difficult for someone to meet performance as well as cost simultaneously. A phone call with our customer or supply chain partnership would be quite valuable to learn more on this topic in detail, and C4V is willing to organize such a call.

ees International: Energy storage manufacturing is very challenging today. How does C4V plan and balance short-term commercial priorities vs. strategic product development priorities?

Both are to be done parallel. The key is to find the "low-hanging fruit" market and get in fast and secure POs, and get on a fast scale to revenue generation in a couple of these markets (C4V is already doing so with cell tower market and smaller off-grid segment), while have both NPI (new product introduction) and CIP (continuous improvement process) happening in parallel. Both NPI and CPI should have a target market, and the key again is to have customers lined up for the new products. We are happy to share our NPI and CPI roadmap for the technical as well as the commercial plan.

ees International: What are the major challenges an energy storage company faces today?

We ensure that a balance between DfC (design for cost) and DfM (design for manufacturability) is followed rigorously so that "must have" customer features are not compromised at all while scaling up. This includes life, reliability, and safety while reducing cost. While we design a product for the stationary market, we have been able to manage minimum changes on various components except one, adding which dramatically changes the lifetime of the battery (1000 cycles Vr 3000 cycles); on the other hand for vertical takeoff and landing (future product), we have designed a cell that uses the same class of material and design, but changes in other component to get higher energy and higher power density, but lower cycle life (~1000 cycles).  

ees International: What's the next major feature C4V has in development and how long will it take to get that to market?

For the mobility market, the solid-state battery is the Holy Grail for lithium batteries. We are already sending semi-solid state cells for commercial testing, which planned to be in commercial production by the year 2023. Last year we were able to demonstrate a working solid state cell in a conference where more than 200 people watched us when we lit a light bulb with our solid-state battery.

However, we are diligently working on 2nd generation battery design that would not require any cooling up to 65°C, which we can produce in small size today; however more optimization on supply chain and processes is needed for commercial production. For Q4 2019 we are aiming to start supplying commercial design and this is expected to be in commercial production by 2021.

For the grid size stationary market, long duration storage capacity is the next big thing and we are working on a very unique battery chemistry coupled with deploying AI, and we hope to offer storage capability for days and possibly weeks instead of 2 to 4 hours; this is scheduled for mass production in 2020.

Shailesh Upreti
C4V New York

The ees International Magazine is specialized on the future-oriented market of electrical energy storage systems, not only from a technological-, but also a financial and application-oriented point-of-view. In cooperation with ees Global, the ees International Magazine informs the energy industry about current progress and the latest market innovations.
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