October 4, 2022

This is one in a series on the Israeli ClimateTech innovation ecosystem. Read the introductory article to learn more about the wonderful public-private partnership ecosystem that is flourishing in Israel.

Battery storage is an incredibly important piece of the carbonization puzzle. I’ve written about many different grid storage technologies – using chemical or mechanical means to store renewable energy for timely release into the power grid.

One category of storage technology I haven’t written much about in this column is portable storage—the kinds of batteries that let you carry a powerful minicomputer in your pocket or send a Tesla from zero to 60 lickety-split.

The leading technology for portable storage is that of lithium-ion batteries. There are various Li-ion chemistries that have been adapted for different use cases, but for the past 30 years or so, betting against Li-ion has been a bad bet.

That’s not to say that lithium-ion batteries can’t be made better. They are light and have high energy density and well rejection ratesbut their cycle life is very short, they’re expensive, they require software to protect them from overcharging, and they take a long time to charge if you’re going to use them to power a car.

Knowing how hard it is to phase out a pretty good technology like lithium-ion, I haven’t written anything about alternative portable battery technology. However, I was excited to hear about an Israeli company – CENS Nano – who has developed a way to improve all types of lithium-ion batteries using carbon nanotubes (CNTs).

CENS’ technological advances improve cycle life and reduce costs and charging times for lithium-ion batteries – all without making changes to the battery manufacturers’ production process. The combination of performance increases with minimal operational disruption is potentially a very big win for battery makers, consumers and society at large as we push double towards electrification.

The secret behind the company’s scientific and engineering advances lies in a proprietary and trade secret dry-process material containing CNTs dispersed in the cathode (positive pole) and anode (negative pole) components.

The CENS dry dispersion of CNTs creates a very stable conductive framework within cathodes and anodes that is unaffected by recycling mechanisms. Because of this effect, CENS technology prevents battery performance from degrading as the number of cycles increases and thus extends the cell’s cycle life.

CENS’ dry dispersion process creates a three-dimensional lattice that forms direct contact with cathode and anode particles that allows for more efficient energy transfer and prevents the formation of dendritic tips – the tiny spikes that grow naturally when recharging lithium-ion batteries and are responsible for reducing battery life.

CENS CEO Moshe Johary tells me that about 30% of the value of an electric vehicle (EV) is made up of the cost of its battery. Because batteries made with CENS materials can store around 30-40% more energy and have a longer useful life, it can see CENS contributing to EV batteries whose cells have the winning combination of higher efficiency, longer life and lower cost.

When I asked Johary how he saw his company’s technology contributing to the evolution of EVs, he said, “The adoption of EVs remains limited by a higher price compared to internal combustion engine vehicles, mainly due to the high cost of batteries. By using batteries containing CENS technology, EV drivers will be able to go further between charging stops, and automakers will be able to reduce the price of battery packs below $100 per kilowatt-hour. Eventually, we believe batteries will become cheap enough to allow EVs to cost less than gas-powered ones.”

Using CENS technology, EV owners will be able to travel more miles between charges, spend less time waiting at the charging station and increase the life of their batteries. Longer-range EVs also mean lower infrastructure costs to build the charging stations necessary to spread EVs.

In addition to increased range and reduced initial cost, the total cost of EV ownership will also be reduced by using CENS technology, thanks to the increased useful life of the batteries. As the useful life of batteries increases, the frequency with which you need to replace them also decreases. This translates into lower maintenance costs for the EV owner.

While the EV supply chain represents CENS’ initial target market, the company also plans to sell into the consumer electronics market, industrial drones and anything else that uses battery power to operate. “Our ability to monetize this technology is not tied to a specific segment or market. We are perfectly positioned to benefit from the secular shift to electrification,” Johary told me.

The technical specifications for the CENS product sound great, but honestly, what stood out to me the most when I first read the CENS pitch deck is the fact that the company has designed their product so that battery manufacturers don’t have to change any from their production processes to use it.

Being a semiconductor analyst for a few years, I know that the best technology does not automatically win. If using the new technology means that expensive production lines have to be completely revamped, the innovation has to be much, much better than the legacy solution for producers to be willing to make the switch.

The fact that CENS technology makes the leading portable battery (lithium-ion) technology better while requiring no changes to battery production greatly improves CENS’s chances of success, in my opinion.

CENS was introduced to me by my Israeli ClimateTech business guide, Rotem Yehuda Kakon. I asked him what drew him to CENS.

“I believe the future of transportation in the world lies in alternatives to polluting fuels,” Kakon said, “including electric solutions of various types, with an emphasis on advanced batteries.”

“If we can develop better batteries that can extend the range of travel and make electric vehicles more popular and accessible to many in the world, we can more easily transition from polluting fuels to clean ones. In Israel, there are more than 500 companies in the field of Smart Mobility, and we believe that CENS technology provides a natural extension to the field of electric vehicles.”

In case you haven’t been watching the latest news, our civilization must figure out how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Better batteries and EVs aren’t the only pieces to the puzzle, but they are undeniably important. It’s great that smart scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs are working on this puzzle!

Smart investors take note.

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