Dan Squiller, long-time CEO at PowerGenix, a rechargeable nickel-zinc battery startup out of San Diego, has joined GT Advanced Technologies (NASDAQ: GTAT) as President of PV and Worldwide Operations based out of Hong Kong, according to a release from GT. GT Advanced Technologies provides polysilicon production, as well as sapphire and silicon crystalline growth systems for the solar and LED industries.
Congrats to Dan, although someone should notify the company's web designer, as Squiller is still listed as CEO on the PowerGenix website.
PowerGenix has been around for a number of years and has had to shift its strategies several times in the highly competitive battery market. The company originally attempted to sell AA rechargeable nickel zinc batteries through retailers like Amazon and Fry’s Electronics. PowerGenix then moved to larger, prismatic batteries for hybrid cars and micro-hybrids, with a particular emphasis on micro-hybrids.
The micro-hybrid system takes the car from zero miles per hour to cruising speed and can improve gas mileage by 6 percent to 10 percent, according to Squiller in an interview. As Jeff St. John writes, PowerGenix will have plenty of competitors in the microhybrid battery field. One of the biggest will be Johnson Controls (JCI). The industrial conglomerate has been supplying advanced lead-acid microhybrid batteries to Ford, which plans to offer the technology in about 20 percent of its vehicles by 2014, and pretty much dominates the general automotive battery market along with such coequals as Exide and GS Yuasa.
Others are aiming their sights at the market, as well. Lead-carbon battery maker Axion Power is supplying test batteries to BMW for microhybrids, and lithium-ion battery maker A123 has targeted the market with a 12-volt system. Whether or not lithium-ion is best suited to the smaller-scale, high-power-density needs of starting up car engines over and over is another question.
“There will be a hundred models [of microhybrids] in two to three years,” said Squiller, particularly in Europe and Asia. “It’s a cost-effective way to meet CAFÉ standards. Rechargeable nickel-zinc batteries from batteries will have to compete with well-established nickel metal hydride batteries for micro-hybrid contracts.
PowerGenix has raised at least $61 million and has been trying to raise $20 million more in funding for a while.
Battery startups Imara and Firefly Energy have already gone under. A123 Systems is having immense cash flow problems. Boston Power is another battery startup that's had to change its plans and move its operations to China.
It's a challenging environment for a startup -- the battery business is low-margin and requires immense capital investment. And the competition is often a massive Asian conglomerate.