Member Spotlight: Urban Electric Power


Urban Electric Power (UEP) is a startup company operating in New York City that has exclusive rights to two rechargeable zinc anode batteries for energy storage systems invented and demonstrated at the City University of New York Energy Institute.  UEP is commercializing the new zinc anode battery technologies for applications ranging from car starting batteries to power protection and grid-scale storage. The company ownership is held by the inventors of the technology at CUNY and by the investors, company officers and employees.
 
The battery technology was developed at the CUNY Energy Institute under the leadership of Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, Sanjoy Banerjee,  with $9 million in support from the Department of Energy, NYSERDA, ARPA-E and Con Edison.  Both battery types contain zinc anodes for the oxidation half-reaction but have different cathodes for different applications. Zinc anode batteries were invented over 100 years ago and have well-established records in safety, reliability, and high energy density. However, previous incarnations of zinc anode batteries have been limited to 300-1,000 cycles, making them too short-lived and too expensive for most applications. The patent-pending innovations developed at the CUNY Energy Institute have enabled UEP’s zinc anode batteries to attain significantly longer cycle life, higher performance and at a very low cost.  
 
The original CUNY team chose zinc for its batteries because the metal is inexpensive, nontoxic and widely accessible.  For the zinc-nickel oxide (Zn-NiO) battery chemistry, the technical problem they faced was the formation of dendrites, which are branch-like structures that build up over time as the batteries are charged and recharged.  Eventually, these dendrites cause the batteries to short.   Banerjee and his team developed a novel system circulating the electrolyte in a specific way such that the flow limits dendrite growth and can extend the life of the battery tenfold.  As a result, the Zn-NiO battery can be used on a daily basis for 10-15 years.
 
UEP’s Zn-NiO technology has demonstrated over 3,000 deep cycles in the lab, and a 30 kWh demonstration system has been in operation at the City College of New York campus for over a year. UEP has developed commercial cells and a product based on lab demonstrations. In partnership with the CUNY Energy Institute, UEP has recently constructed a 100kW energy storage system utilizing the advanced Zn-NiO battery technology that can undergo over 5,000 deep discharge cycles with a high total system energy efficiency of >85%. The 100kW battery installation in the basement of Steinman Hall at the Grove School of Engineering at CCNY will allow the school to reduce their peak power usage, resulting in significant electrical energy savings. The system is rated for 100kW and is being installed in 2 phases; the first phase, which will be operational in June 2013, will allow the delivery of the rated power for a period of 30 minutes. In July, additional energy capacity will allow the system to discharge at the rated power for a period of two hours, resulting in further savings for CCNY. The high-performance Zn-NiO batteries are Urban Electric Power’s first commercial product available for customers.
 
UEP’s major battery product is designed to replace lead acid batteries for automobile starting applications at half the weight and half the cost using its second zinc anode technology.  According to UEP’s President and CEO, Eric McFarland, “UEP’s Zn-MnO2 technology will provide a cheaper, lighter, higher performance and environmentally safe alternative to the more than 200 million lead acid engine starting batteries sold each year.”
 
UEP’s Zn-MnO2 battery will use a much less expensive manganese dioxide cathode, rather than nickel, that lowers the total battery price and can attain over 2,000 cycles for stationary applications as well. The Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) supported the zinc-manganese dioxide (Zn-MnO2) research at the CUNY Energy Institute as part of the Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS) program.  The reduced costs of the Zn-MnO2 battery can potentially unlock the market for grid scale storage and allow UEP’s batteries to compete with lead acid batteries for automotive starting—the largest existing rechargeable battery market and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. Currently this technology is being productized and will be available in mid 2014.
 
UEP ‘s management team includes President and CEO Eric McFarland, who has helped bring a number of chemical-based technologies to market, VP of Technology Alexander Couzis and VP of Storage Systems Valerio De Angelis.  The company believes that its advanced rechargeable zinc anode battery technology is well-placed to compete in large existing markets and that the low-cost, safe, and environmentally friendly technology will be the leading candidate for future grid-storage and renewables firming markets.  Urban Electric Power is actively seeking strategic partners for sales, distribution and manufacturing opportunities.
 
To learn more, visit www.urbanelectricpower.com