Former A123 boss aims beyond electric cars

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A Vionx energy storage system.jack

Jack Newsham

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10/07/2015

“We’ve created an ecosystem a group of partners around the table that are supporting the commercialization effort,” Vieau said.

Vionx’s batteries use a technology licensed from United Technologies Corp., the Hartford advanced equipment maker. They are designed to last 20 years and pump out electricity for up to 10 hours, compared to around four hours for lithium-ion batteries, Vieau said.

The company said in a securities filing earlier this year that it raised $58 million. Vionx’s investors. include Starwood Energy Group of Greenwich, Conn. and Vieau’s firm, Vantage Point Capital Partners of San Bruno, Calif.

Other Massachusetts firms are working in energy storage. A123 is making batteries to boost the fuel efficiency of cars, and still has research facilities in Massachusetts after being purchased by Wanxiang America Corp, a subisidiary of the Chinese conglomerate Wanxiang Group. Beacon Power LLC of Tyngsborough uses high-tech flywheels to store electricity, and the MIT spinout Ambri Inc. is also targeting the grid-scale market.

The state’s Department of Energy Resources is currently studying energy storage companies as part of a $10 million initiative to help the industry grow.

Vionx

Grid scale energy storage is a small but growing market. Worldwide, according to the Boston firm Lux Research, only 1,800 megawatts of storage have been deployed — the equivalent of just 12 percent of New England’s peak electricity demand of 15,400 megawatts on Tuesday.

Last week, Jim Robo, chief executive of the Florida utility and energy company NextEra Energy Inc., said battery systems could eliminate the need to build expensive “peaker plants” that only run on hot summer or cold winter days when electricity demand is highest.

Dean Frankel, an analyst for Lux Research, said congested areas that consume huge amounts of power, such as Manhattan or downtown Boston, could use batteries to store energy and release it when demand peaks. But he cautioned that it was unclear how batteries would be incorporated into electricity markets.

“No one in the [battery] industry today can tell you there’s a clear roadmap,” Frankel said.

Still, that uncertainty hasn’t stopped big companies from getting into energy storage, including the Japanese electronics maker, Panasonic Corp., the German engineering and manufacturing company Bosch Group, and the Swiss engineering company ABB Group. Elon Musk, chief executive of the California electric car maker Tesla Motors, Inc. said his company would soon sell battery systems for homes and commercial clients.