ZapBatt CEO Charlie Welch discussed batteries, solving climate change, and even battery recycling with me in an interview today. He shared some of the problems that led to him starting the company, which specializes in more than just EV batteries. This is part 1 of our interview. In this part, we talk about:
- How Charlie got started with ZapBatt
- The difference between ZapBatt & the overall battery industry
- Charging in just 15 minutes; 20-year life span.
How Charlie Got Started With ZapBatt
Charlie, who worked for Northrop Grumman Aerospace for seven years, told me that what inspired him to take on battery technology was actually a two-part story. To start with, he always had a passion for energy storage.
“I thought it was just super fascinating. It’s such an innately human thing. I always like to give this analogy of all humans love food. It’s like the artistic expression of consuming energy in a weird way.”
During his college years, he worked on energy storage research when he was hired by Northrop to work in applied research for the U.S. Department of Defense. It gave him a preview of the next generation of batteries and energy storage — painting a picture of what they looked like.
“What’s interesting about working on the military side is that all these new technologies that aren’t cost-competitive enough to be in the consumer space yet oftentimes get put into the military because they are all about capability. They’ve got a more flexible budget and I got to see this problem with batteries and what it’s going to look like for the next 15 or 20 years to a certain extent.”
What sparked his inspiration was something else he worked on at Northrop.
“I started a project to help build technology for wildlife conservation at Northrop and it was called the Wildlife Challenge. And we partnered with the San Diego Zoo. We built all this amazing technology to study polar bears in the Arctic and down in South America and everything in between.
“On a trip to Panama, I almost got stuck in the airport. My phone was almost dead, my power bank was dead, and I only had five or ten minutes to find a bus to get to a boat to get out to the center of the rain forest. And I had that spark of both ‘Why is there no battery that solves this problem? I’ve got five minutes of time and I study batteries for a living. Why are batteries now coming against me, to a certain extent?'”
This is when he realized that this part of battery technology has been overlooked. Charlie added that he has spent a lot of time traveling and seeing the impact that our technology was having on wildlife, especially polar bears.
“I lived on the edge of freezing sea ice just to see the one animal that really depends on the climate being consistent. I wanted to take what I’ve learned and then be able to bring new technology to market that both were competitive in the battery space that offered something that was a lot more sustainable than what is currently offered right now in the current era of batteries.”
Polar bears, Charlie explained, don’t eat for six months out of the year. They only eat when the ice is covering the ground. So, as the planet continues to warm up, the less time polar bears have to eat. And this bodes not so well, especially for mother bears who have cubs and haven’t eaten. The ice is how polar bears capture their prey, which is seals — the blubber or fat to be precise.
“How long it takes the sea ice to freeze has a direct impact on their survival. And it’s really interesting to see. You’ll see them walk out ten feet a day as the ice continues to freeze up. And if the ice takes longer and longer to freeze, it’s a lot harder for them to hunt and survive — especially for female polar bears, which have cubs. So, they’re giving birth and not eating. They call them the canaries in the coal mine of climate change.”
The Difference Between ZapBatt & The Overall Battery Industry
The battery industry, Charlie explained, has been in this energy density race where all of the companies are trying to come out with a miracle battery. Having worked in the research and development space, Charlie saw that this is the wrong thing for some of these companies to focus on. Yes, battery energy density is important, but it isn’t the only important part of the battery itself.
“They are essentially focusing on one metric of how long can a battery last but they are kind of negating a lot of the extra factors that come with how long your phone would last on one charge. Because everyone was focused on that one problem, a bunch of technologies is being overlooked. Why is no one using these?”
He added that many of these technologies were perceived to not have enough energy density to become competitive. Charlie noted that lithium titanate, which is the chemistry ZapBatt works with, was initially built for the U.S. Navy around 20 years ago.
“It’s a very proven technology but what it’s kind of lacked on is the software and the hardware to help it integrate for a couple of reasons. But what our batteries are capable of now is that they can fully charge in 15 minutes, which is fast and what they were designed to do. But one of the most sustainable qualities is that they are rated for 15,000 cycles — UL/UN certified to that.”
This is almost 20 years of a lifetime for one battery. Can you imagine your phone’s battery lasting that long? 20 years ago I had just gotten my first cell phone. I was also still in high school and working full time. A lot can happen in 20 years.
“That gives it the ability to not only have an impact on a business’s operations by not having to trash batteries as often, but it allows it to do that for decades, which means that their carbon footprint drops exponentially compared with what they’re doing right now. Especially in the micro-mobility space where they’re turning batteries over every 12 months or so.”
Charging In Just 15 Minutes, 20-Year Lifespan
ZapBatt batteries have a 20-year lifespan and charge in just 15 minutes, Charlie told me while showing me an e-bike battery.
“A typical e-bike battery like this will charge for about 6 hours and last for around 12 months. This battery will charge in 15 minutes as opposed to 6 hours and will last for technically 20 years in terms of cycle life. They get a lot of fast charging and a lot longer lifetime.
“Our key innovation at ZapBatt is that we’ve built the equivalent of a universal adapter for lithium titanate, and it’s kind of in the weeds, but essentially we’ve made it as easy for a customer to adopt.”
All a customer has to do is plug it in and ZapBatt’s electronics and software do the rest. This adapter will integrate easily into a system based on lithium-ion batteries.
Stay tuned for part 2, which will soon be published on CleanTechnica Pro.
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