Skip to Content

The Sad Story of the Battery Breakthrough that Proved Too Good to Be True

Technology from Envia that was supposed to cut EV battery costs in half doesn’t actually work.
December 6, 2013

We’ve previously reported on a startup, Envia Systems, that claimed its batteries could store twice as much as conventional ones—and could cut costs in half. That could have made electric cars with a couple of hundred miles of range per charge affordable.

But according to court documents from a lawsuit against the company, Envia hasn’t been able to reproduce its stunning results, and as a result, it has lost its funding and a key relationship with GM, which had hoped to use the technology its electric cars (see this article from GigaOm for more on the court documents and “A Big Jump in Battery Capacity” for background on Envia).

Envia was a poster child for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), whose funding led to the remarkable original results. The company was often cited by the agency’s director as evidence of the kind of progress that the agency’s funding could make possible (see “Can ARPA-E Solve Energy Problems?”).

GM invested $7 million in the company on hearing of the battery’s high energy storage capacities. GM’s CEO, Dan Akerson said the technology “could be a game changer” and remarked on how it seemed to have “come out of nowhere” (see “Should the Government Support Applied Research?”).

At the time (spring of 2012), the results were so far out of line with what others were accomplishing that I looked closely for a catch. What I found was that the batteries lost energy capacity far too fast to be practical in EVs. I wrote:

But the cells aren’t yet ready for use in electric cars. To last the life of a vehicle, they need to be able to recharge over 1,000 times and still maintain 80 percent of their original storage capacity. The company is still testing the new batteries, but after only 400 charges, they have dropped to 72 percent of capacity  … Solving the problem could require substantial improvements to the electrodes.

As it turns out, that wasn’t all that was wrong with the batteries. From GigaOm:

[B]y spring 2013, it started to become clear that Envia could not replicate the 400 wh/kg technology and turn it into a product. Samsung, LG and Asahi Kasei declined to buy the company because it found problems with the technology, according to the court documents … When the technology was not recreated for GM by summer 2013, GM eventually cancelled the deal.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

individual aging affects covid outcomes concept
individual aging affects covid outcomes concept

Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid

Drugs that rejuvenate our immune systems and make us biologically younger could help protect us from the disease’s worst effects.

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Uber Autonomous Vehicles parked in a lot
Uber Autonomous Vehicles parked in a lot

It will soon be easy for self-driving cars to hide in plain sight. We shouldn’t let them.

If they ever hit our roads for real, other drivers need to know exactly what they are.

crypto winter concept
crypto winter concept

Crypto is weathering a bitter storm. Some still hold on for dear life.

When a cryptocurrency’s value is theoretical, what happens if people quit believing?

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.