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Mujeeb Ijaz, a veteran of Apple’s secretive electric car program, Ford’s first plug-in hybrid experiment and A123 Systems’ gallant attempt to beat Tesla a decade ago, is on to a new gig with a similar level of ambition: to build a novel, inexpensive electric vehicle battery that will last decades, go 750 miles or so on a charge and be independent of the Chinese supply chain.
And he makes a compelling case for why he can.
Ijaz is CEO of Our Next Energy, a Michigan-based startup launched in 2020. By this time next year, he intends to begin commercial production of his first product, a lithium-iron-phosphate battery that he says will have greater energy density than most current EV batteries. Not long after that will come his blockbuster—the battery described in the first paragraph. Its secret sauce will be the use of dual cathodes, somewhat analogous to giving a person two nervous systems. The battery will use the inexpensive LFP cathode and a second, manganese-based cathode to extend the range of the EV in which it’s installed. That is, if you are driving from Chicago to Nashville, Tenn., a distance of 475 miles, the LFP-based battery will take you about as far as Lebanon, Ind., about 156 miles. From there, the manganese-based battery will kick in and carry you the rest of the way. “We will capture the market,” Ijaz told me.
As the year winds down, the EV and battery industries are experiencing great stress—from supply disruptions to soaring material costs and uncertainty as to who will survive. Amid all this, a bold new generation of startups is starting to bubble up, claiming to have many of the answers. They cover the gamut from would-be miners of rare earths and critical minerals to electrode makers, battery-charging companies and more, and appear to reflect a new, more knowing stage in the expected EV revolution: The identities of the main commercial players of the coming decade are more or less clear, even if uncertainty remains about how their fortunes will play out. But much latitude remains for individual startups to disrupt the race.
Below, I profile four of the North American startups I’m watching closely. The one led by Ijaz, who raised $20 million this year from investors including Bill Gates–led Breakthrough Energy and BMW’s venture arm, may be the only one attempting to tackle almost all the current pain points at once.
Ijaz launched One Next Energy a month after leaving Apple, where he had worked on the ultraclandestine Projtect Titan for six years. In our chat, when he talked about Apple, he quoted its co-founder, Steve Jobs, who said, “You gotta figure out the real problem to solve.” One of the primary ...