A team of MBA students, who just so happen to include members with Ph.D.’s, might be about to change the way RV manufacturers and enthusiasts think about the battery systems that operate appliances and other devices inside the vehicles.
Dragonfly Energy of Reno, Nev., a startup battery company, includes University of Nevada-Reno MBA student Denis Phares and Ph.D. student Justin Serranto.
Phares holds a Ph.D.from California Institute of Technology and spent time as a professor at the University of Southern California. He’s also a bit of an inventor.
His latest invention is a process of creating a lithium iron phosphate battery that he believes can revolutionize not just batteries, but energy storage overall.
“I’ve tweaked the manufacturing process to streamline some of the more expensive steps,” he said. “The idea is to reduce the cost significantly to the end user. We are going to market now with cells and packs that we can source and market to RV users. As it is now, it’s still a cost savings over the life of the battery.”
|From left: Sean Nichols, Denis Phares and Justin Serranto|
This first generation of battery isn’t cheap. Phares said a 12.8-volt, 100-hour pack costs $999.
Eventually, however, he believes once the company secures enough funds to mass produce the batteries, the cost will be cut significantly.
Even as it sits now, Phares said the batteries offer savings over traditional lead-acid batteries because the life of the new batteries is significantly longer.
Phares said his battery is cheaper to produce than the current generation of rechargeable lithium ion batteries because he has eliminated a solvent and drying process used to make most lithium ion batteries. The solvent is toxic and the drying process costly.
In addition, he said the lithium iron phosphate battery is significantly lighter than a lead-acid battery, and weight is always an issue when it comes to an RV.
Phares and his team entered their business plan and product in the Nevada Governor’s Cup competition and finished second in the graduate student category, earning them $15,000 and advancing them to a competition among students from Nevada, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Further funding from winning that competition could speed up the process of getting Dragonfly’s battery products into full production and changing the face of RV energy storage.
Dragonfly also has set up a website – www.dragonflyenergy.net – where it is offering individually built batteries along with other electrical system devices from AIMS Power of Reno.
“We’re not actively looking for investors at the moment,” Phares said. “We opened a web store. We’re using typical Google AdWords and we’re scanning to see who’s finding us and what we’re finding is there’s a lot of RV enthusiasts who are finding us online. I know the lead-acid battery is a pain point for RV users. They find us and see the price and get scared away. We’ve got to get them to stick around a little bit.”
The RV and marine markets are just a starting point for his invention, in Phares’ mind.
It’s a perfect fit because of the demands for power storage an RV has. But there are greater possibilities if the technology proves as reliable and cost-efficient as Phares believes.
“The holy grail for energy storage is grid storage,” he said. “Ultimately if we can get the cost down to where we think we can, it’s much larger than RV and marine battery market. It goes into solar and wind prominent on the grid and there’s enough energy storage on the grid to accommodate intermittent sources like that.”