When it announced plans to locate its North American headquarters and research center in Portland, ReVolt said it was also targeting $30 million in federal stimulus grants to kick-start their arrival.
In particular, it was eyeing a solicitation from the energy department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA) that generated thousands of applications from a wide array of technologies.
“Our odds going into it were not very good,” McDougall said in an interview from Switzerland. “In short, it just took a little bit longer for us to find the sweet spot in terms of strategy and focus for ARPA.”
The $5 million it secured last month came through a specific ARPA program focused on electric vehicle battery technology that issued $106 million in grants to 37 different research projects.
ReVolt is working to commercialize its rechargeable zinc-air battery technology as a more efficient and cheaper alternative to the prevalent lithium-ion technology.
Since its launch in 2004, work has focused largely on developing the technology for small consumer electronics — from hearing aids to mobile phones. McDougall said the company plans on rolling out a range of consumer applications over the next two to four years.
The Portland center will work on developing the technology for larger applications, with a focus on electric vehicles and large-scale electricity storage devices.
McDougall is optimistic about the company’s chances of landing a second round of ARPA funds, this time from a program focused partly on energy storage technologies.
The GRIDS program — an acronym for Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage — is expected to offer awards ranging between $500,000 and $10 million.
McDougall said ReVolt isn’t relying solely on federal subsidies. It has its own working capital and a syndicate of willing investors.
“Clearly, this award helps catalyze our efforts and gives us an impetus to move forward faster than we would on our own,” he said. “The additional capital from subsidies would be welcome, but it wouldn’t deter us from moving forward at the pace we need.”
ReVolt joined Albany-based EnerG2 Inc. and Lebanon-based Entek International LLC among Oregon companies to receive portions of stimulus funds in the past year to develop energy storage devices related to electric cars.
EnerG2 was awarded $21 million in August to develop high-energy storage devices for hybrid vehicles. Entek, meanwhile, is developing battery separators for hybrid and electric vehicles for Wisconsin-based Johnson Controls, which received $299.2 million in August for a pair of battery technology projects.
ReVolt stands out as a singular success in Oregon’s push to create an electric car industry in the region.
With the state passed over by other manufacturers — most notably Norwegian auto-maker Think!, which picked Indiana over Portland — the focus has shifted toward developing a robust supply chain to the industry, either through recruitment or helping existing companies break into the space.
“We’re still learning about both the (electric vehicle) and energy storage sector, but we really hope we can find some supply chain opportunities,” said Mark Brady, a clean tech strategist with the Oregon Business Development Department. “We’re still figuring out where’s our best fit and opportunity and chance of success.”
Meanwhile, ReVolt has set up a temporary office out of the World Trade Center building in downtown Portland and is on the hunt for a more permanent space it hopes to occupy by October. The company expects to employ 75 initially before growing to 250.
McDougall said the company will lease existing space no larger than 50,000 square feet.
The company recently announced the hiring of battery industry veteran Wade Guindy as chief operating officer, who is working closely with the Portland office of CH2M Hill in selecting a site.
ReVolt’s headquarters will remain in Switzerland, but most of its senior management team will reside in Portland, said McDougall, who expects to spend about half his time in Portland. McDougall, Guindy and Chief Technical Officer Adam Laubach are all U.S. citizens.
By Erik Siemers, sustainablebusinessoregon.com