EnerG2, Backed by OVP and Firelake, Wants to Own Energy Storage in the Electricity Economy

Two weeks ago, Xconomy broke the news of the Seattle startup EnerG2’s $8.5 million first-round venture deal with Kirkland, WA-based OVP Venture Partners and Palo Alto, CA-based Firelake Capital Management. Today, the energy storage and advanced materials company is officially announcing its approach and giving the story behind its financing. I had a chance to speak in-depth with EnerG2 chief executive Rick Luebbe and OVP venture partner Rick LeFaivre about the company, its strategy, and what it could mean for the future of cleantech ventures, particularly in the Northwest.

As we reported before, EnerG2’s technology originally comes from the University of Washington. It revolves around synthetic carbon powder and “nanocomposite” materials that have novel properties on the molecular scale, such that they are extremely efficient at storing various kinds of energy—electricity, natural gas, and hydrogen, to name a few. I wanted to find out more about how the technology works and how it will be commercialized (think better batteries for tools, vehicles, and mobile devices), but I also wanted to hear the deeper story about the ideas and motivations of the key players and how the deal came about.

The story goes back to 2003, when Luebbe and his business partner Chris Wheaton first got into the energy game. Luebbe had been the co-founder and CEO of the Seattle software firm Hubspan, while Wheaton had been vice president of North American operations at Silicon Valley-based Loudcloud (now part of Hewlett-Packard). “We got interested in energy storage because we recognized no matter which direction the energy economy went, storage would be a critical, critical component,” says Luebbe. And whether it was electrical storage or gas storage, local or mobile applications, the future was in energy. “I really enjoyed my previous career from a business perspective, but I didn’t have same passion I have for clean energy,” Luebbe adds.

Luebbe and Wheaton began looking for renewable energy technologies at the University of Washington that were practical and could be readily commercialized. “We weren’t interested in science projects,” says Luebbe. At the same time, they thought “the most practical way to enter the space was to find a technology that was a market changer,” he says. In other words, they had to swing for the fences. So they met with various department heads at the UW, and were introduced to Guozhong Cao, a professor in the materials science and engineering department, and his graduate student, Aaron Feaver. Cao and Feaver were focused on developing novel materials to generate and store energy. It was a good match.

The status quo in energy-storage technology, roughly speaking, is that you try different natural materials and see if they work. What Cao and Feaver did was use advanced nanotechnology and … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • Carbon research for gas storage was also funded by PNNL and the UW’s “Joint Institute for Nanotechnology” program back in 2005 to Aaron Feaver and Professor Cao. This program related to the Center for Nanotechnology had goals to produce high quality science and work that could lead to new proposals. The Center for Nanotechnology still continues to provide funding to new and “high risk” science started by its affilliated faculty through student fellowships and has an open user facility (SEM, TEM, Confocal, Softlith, & EBL)that works jointly with the WTC and is part of the nnin.org. I would suggest businesses that are looking for resources to not only look at those mentioned in this article, but those that are part of or associated with the Center for Nanotechnology, UW.