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Our Next Energy Chief Aims To Create An American EV-Battery King

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Mujeeb Ijaz seeks a 600-mile range for a game-changing battery system that has been developed and will be built in Michigan.

Electric-vehicle batteries are one of the fastest-moving technologies in the world, pushed mightily by governments, automakers and tech titans and pulled by the exploding demand for the energy systems that seem destined to power the future of automotive transportation.

Still, in that increasingly crowded, sharp-elbowed derby, Mujeeb Ijaz seeks to stand out with his startup, Our Next Energy (ONE). His strategy for leapfrogging the competition starts with a bold notion: essentially doubling the mileage range that a charged battery system can provide to an EV. Technical trials show that ONE is on its way to meeting the goal of a 600-mile-range battery system, Ijaz said, and he and the company are backing up that bet by building a $1.6-billion plant near Detroit to make the system.

ONE CEO Mujeeb Ijaz

“When I founded the company in 2020, I knew we needed to solve the three big problems that were in the way for electrification to take off and to succeed long-term,” ONE CEO Ijaz told Chief Executive.

First, “What is the long-term range target for EVs? Today, an average of 300 miles [per charge] is seen as a good goal, but I calculated that we needed around 600 miles for the long-term market,” said Ijaz, who has more than 30 years of experiencing developing EVs and battery-systems technologies.

Second, he said, “I didn’t agree with using cobalt” in EV batteries because of supply-chain challenges for the mineral that has become a popular element in the industry; and Ijaz didn’t like cobalt or nickel because when cells made of these materials fail, they can result in “thermal runaways” leading to battery fires that have plagued early EVs. ONE batteries are based on lithium iron phosphate chemistry, which is inherently more stable.

And, third, Ijaz said, there wasn’t yet a domestic company developing batteries, outside some automakers. “They were all being developed in Asia.”

So Ijaz founded ONE after long experience developing alternative-energy systems at Ford and at the Venture Technologies unit of A123 Systems, a company which was acquired out of bankruptcy by the Chinese, and even a stint at Apple, developing novel storage solutions. Investors in ONE have included Flex, the global electronics contract-manufacturing giant, and subsequent Series B funding of $300 million from BMW’s iVentures arm; Breakthrough Energy Ventures, founded by Bill Gates; and others. The most recent investments value ONE at about $1.2 billion.

Michigan and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation have approved a total of $237 million in state support for ONE, its factory and potentially more than 2,200 new jobs if ONE is able to commercialize its battery innovations broadly.

As it creates new partnerships and probes initial verticals before building its plant in Michigan, ONE already has reached about $60 million in annual revenues, with a projection of $350 million in revenues in 2024, Ijaz said.

That all of this is happening in the United States is far from accidental. Ijaz recognized the need for a battery company that not only manufactured batteries in the United States, but also conducted its scientific research and engineering within the country. This approach aimed to shift away from relying on South Korea and China, the global leaders in EV-battery technology.

The availability of funding for domestic EV production through the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) further validated Ijaz’s perspective. “We started the company at just the right time, because it wasn’t clear until now that we would get any traction from becoming an American battery company,” Ijaz says. “Now, with the IRA, U.S. battery companies have a mechanism to level competitiveness in the near term so that we can get larger volumes in the long term.”

ONE’s unique dual-chemistry-battery architecture for electric propulsion is currently being tested by BMW and others. Essentially, Ijaz and ONE are proffering the ultimate solution to the challenge that has been restraining growth in U.S. electric-vehicle sales more than any other: range anxiety. Many consumers refrain from investing in EVs because they distrust the mileage-range claims of manufacturers or figure that now-typical ranges of 250  to 300 miles on a charge aren’t quite robust enough for their purposes. Consumers also understand that conveniently charging EVs, on the road and at home, also remains a problem.

ONE employs two batteries in its system instead of one. The main battery, called Aries, is based on lithium iron phosphate (LFP) chemistry. The Aries battery will provide up to about 350 miles of range on a typical EV — a mark that ONE recently more than doubled from its early versions — which will cover nearly all everyday use cases for an EV and is competitive with most nickel manganese cobalt batteries that power EVs.

Ijaz recently said ONE also has cut the weight of its Aries battery to within 6% of a comparable nickel manganese cobalt battery. Moreover, the abundant and cost-effective availability of iron in the United States serves as a substitute for lithium, which is facing global supply constraints.

A second battery architecture, known as Gemini, is the key to ONE’s approach: It’s a range-extending battery that will give a battery system a total range of about 600 miles. Gemini uses the same LFP chemistry for its main battery as Aries, but supplements it with a second higher energy density chemistry, which charges the first when depleted. It’s meant to provide EV owners with peace of mind in so-called “edge cases” that occur rarely. American drivers average only four such instances a year, Ijaz said, but having confidence in an overall range of 600 miles can be a dealmaker for hesitant EV-car buyers who remain wary of charging-infrastructure concerns.

“If your normal willingness to drive is on a four- or five-hour trip, you should be able to do that without needing to stop for a charge somewhere or having zero range when you get there,” Ijaz said.

ONE has demonstrated Gemini’s capabilities on a retrofitted Tesla Model S that achieved 752 miles on a single charge. BMW has been working with ONE to begin testing an electric iX SUV equipped with the dual battery system. Meanwhile, ONE has kicked off limited production in its existing Michigan facilities of a battery system for the commercial-truck market and is entering the utility-grid storage market via a deal to supply a solar-powered microgrid for a Berkshire Hathaway defense plant in West Virginia.

“We’ve already got that first dollar bill that you frame if you’re a new business and you start taking in proceeds,” Ijaz says. “I just have to figure out how to frame a check.”


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