The idea of putting big, voluminous batteries in electric vehicles slowly crept out of the lab and onto the streets, but without the size and bulk. One of the companies that have achieved this is Chicago-based startup Influit Energy, spun off from Illinois Tech. The company has ambitious plans to expand its workforce and lab space, and it’s apparently eyeing Austin, Texas for its next big move. This could be…interesting!
Texas Hearts Electric Vehicles
Strange as it may sound, the iconic oil-producing state of Texas is on a tear when the topic turns to electric vehicles.
If you’re thinking about Tesla, that’s a good guess, but it’s only one thing.
ERCOT, the agency that runs all but a small portion of the Texas grid, is in a unique position because it cannot trade power with other jurisdictions except for a relatively minor agreement with Mexico. This makes ERCOT particularly sensitive to new technologies and new opportunities.
“As an independent entity that has innovation-friendly rural electricity cooperatives under its umbrella, ERCOT can be an agile platform to adapt to new energy technologies,” Clean Technica observed in 2020. “The organization can also draw on new research at the University of Texas and other leading state institutions, which means Texas regularly appears on the Clean Technica radar.”
ERCOT has been planning a future EV for 10 years or more. The agency correctly anticipates that electric vehicles – which are mobile energy storage units, after all – can be deployed to smooth out grid-wide peaks in demand, coordinating charging times in the form of a virtual power plant. ERCOT collaborates with the company ev.energy on a virtual power plant project.
Octopus Energy is another fast-growing cleantech company moving to Texas. Earlier this summer, the company launched a new electric vehicle leasing plan aimed at accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles in Texas.
Then there’s the pickup factor, namely Ford’s popular F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. The first users deployed their electrified microphones for emergency power supply as the Texas grid suffers from one extreme weather event after another, adding even more weight to the electric vehicle case.
Planning ahead for an EV future
ERCOT is also interested in the transition to renewable energies. In October 2020, the agency partnered with something called the Global Consortium for Power System Transformation. The G-PST consortium aims to overcome the barriers to integrating more renewable energy into the grid, and of course electric vehicles play an important role in this effort.
The G-PST platform collaboration with ERCOT includes other heavyweights on the global grid operator scene, including Australian Power Market Operator, UK National Grid Operator , the California Independent System Operator, the Irish System Operator and the Danish System Operator, as well as many other operators in markets around the world including Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America, as well as a set of institutional technology partners.
Workforce Development in Texas: It’s Complicated
So this is where it gets interesting, because no mention of Texas is complete without a mention of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and his Republican allies in the state legislature, who have been at the center of efforts to reduce everyone with a womb has the status of a government-owned, community-watched procreation vessel.
Texas enacted new restrictions on access to abortion last fall, before the Dobbs anti-abortion ruling handed down by the six Republican-appointed justices of the United States Supreme Court last June.
The Dobbs decision returned the abortion access ball to Texas and other states. Texas isn’t the only state where male, predominantly Republican, white policymakers have jumped at the chance to crack down on the womb-owning population, but it’s a state that’s worked hard to carve out a new cleantech profile and attract new cleantech jobs.
Texas vs. Illinois for the Future Flow Battery
The full impact of Dobbs clean technology decision texas workforce development and other anti-abortion states have yet to surface, but as early as last fall Forbes magazine was among those raising red flags.
Last month, Bloomberg Law also raised a question that should make employers think twice doing business in texas.
“The threat of abortion-related legal liability in Texas has raised hard-to-answer questions about companies’ plans to help employees travel for out-of-state procedures — including the amount of sensitive information on employees that a company could be forced to disclose in court. “, Bloomberg Law reported.
Meanwhile, a significant number of US states continue to claim that pregnant women have the right to manage their own pregnancies as they see fit. Among these is Illinois, the home state of Influit Energy.
So how serious is Influit Energy about taking stakes and moving from Chicago to Texas?
We guess it’s not very serious, at least not until Texas elects new policy makers who respect the right to pregnancy management.
Influit is looking for more lab space to take its EV-compatible flow battery to the next level, which means it also plans to increase its workforce. If they choose to move to Texas, it is their responsibility.
Illinois Tech seems to want the company to stay put. Last week, the school published an article summarizing Influit’s work over a period of more than 10 years, in which this observation appeared:
“As the contracts continue to pile up, the company hires new scientists and is actively looking to expand its square footage — from 2,100 square feet to 20,000 — through the acquisition of new lab space. It remains to be seen where the laboratory will be located. The co-founders hope to stay in Chicago, but say they are also considering opportunities in Austin, Texas.
More Flow batteries for more electric vehicles
As for Influit’s flow battery technology for electric vehicles, the company has crossed the Clean Technica radar last December, when we took note of its “nanotechnology-based functional liquids, or nanofluids, that enable powerful solutions for a variety of energy challenges.”
Flow batteries take advantage of the ability of specialized liquids in motion to generate electricity. The technology isn’t new, but the initial formulations were big, bulky affairs. Innovators like Influit have worked to reduce scale, increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Influit’s contribution to this field is a nanoparticle formulation that overcomes the sticky barrier of substances settling in solution.
“Unlike other flow batteries, Influit does not dissolve anything. Instead, we suspend battery nanoparticles in a base fluid. They never settle and are completely unsupported,” says Influit.
As for the all-important charging time, the Influit’s Flow Battery System is rechargeable in about the same time as it takes to fill a tank of gas. The charging station, as it is, can be sized to fit in the back of a van, giving the new battery an added mobility advantage.
Influit has already attracted attention – and funding – from DARPA, the US Air Force and NASA. The company is currently working through an Air Force Small Business Program to introduce a next-generation version of its nanofluidic format, so stay tuned for more.
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Image: Casting pastey for electric vehicles and other uses courtesy of Influit.
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