“The concept is being pursued by many different research groups,” says Iravani, who is working on a similar system that utilities could use to switch between energy-storage technologies and renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Iravani says that within five or six years, hybrid approaches will significantly improve the performance of energy-storage systems.
Indy Power has already demonstrated its technology in golf carts and is scaling up to highway-capable vehicles. A manufacturer approached the company just last week, says Tolen, to say that it was interested in combining two different lithium-ion chemistries and a lead-acid battery pack in a plug-in hybrid vehicle.
Indy’s system can also be customized with a simple software upgrade, says Tolen. He envisions a day when we can upgrade the performance of vehicles in much the way we add RAM to computers. “My wife never drives more than 20 miles a day, so I would probably put 100 percent lead acid in her vehicle. Some people might want to go 40 miles, so they’ll have five kilowatt-hours of lithium-ion batteries and maybe 15 kilowatt-hours of lead acid. It depends on preferences. We just need to change the paradigm of how we buy cars.”
The company has some technical veterans behind it. One of its directors is Bill Wylam, a former General Motors engineer who was responsible for the development of the propulsion system for GM’s EV1 electric car. Indy Power’s chief operating officer is Bob Galyen, who helped develop the battery pack for the EV1 prototype.
Tolen says that Indy Power has also been approached by utilities that would like to see the Multi-Flex system scaled up for grid-based applications. Iravani says that selling to the electricity sector will be more difficult given its aversion to risk, but he believes that the combination of power electronics and hybrid energy storage could increase grid reliability and allow utilities to use more renewable energy.