Alevo: Charged and Ready
Sep 02, 2015 02:21PM
By Jason Huddle
Founded In Switzerland in 2009, Alevo Group is an energy service provider (ESP). It’s also global in scale, and Cabarrus County landed it when Alevo purchased the vacant Philip Morris plant on NC Highway 29. Now called Victory Industrial Park, it’s home to the firm’s first manufacturing facility.
Alevo unveiled the plan for its new venture in October of 2014. Now, almost a year later, it is on the cusp of rolling those first shipments of product off the assembly line.
What’s interesting is that Alevo’s business is, in itself, philanthropic. And it’s all about electricity. According to company officials, the world wastes approximately 30 percent of all energy produced – energy manufactured from depleting fossil fuels and that consumers have paid for. Up until now, there has been no way to sufficiently store that wasted energy. Alevo has found a solution with mind-boggling renewable potential.
Out of its Concord facility, Alevo will be manufacturing batteries that can be used to store electricity. The batteries are then assembled together in a container known as a GridBank. The GridBanks can be shipped anywhere in the world where there is an energy deficiency – or no energy at all – and be used to power an area for up to 20 years. “The battery is safe, non-flammable and non-combustible,” Chris Christainsen, executive vice-president of Alevo, adds.
These claims were backed up last year by representatives from other international companies that have partnered with Alevo. “We need to find ways to store the energy and release it when needed,” Dr. Deng Xu, chairman of E&M (a Chinese energy group), says. “We believe the Alevo battery is that bridge.”
Alevo’s executive vice-president and chief officer of marketing and sustainability, Scott Schotter, explains that Alevo is the culmination of years of ideas and analyzing the problem of energy inefficiencies. “Alevo was born in the mind of Jostein Eikeland, a serial entrepreneur whose career has always focused on creating optimization, creating efficiencies and reducing wastefulness,” Schotter says. “After years of modeling and perfecting the business plan, hundreds of spreadsheets, investments in different battery technologies, finding like-minded employees to analyze the grid and build our product –the GridBank – Alevo was ready to find its U.S. manufacturing home.”
Why Cabarrus County? Schotter says they looked at a lot of properties in many states, but their search wasn’t typical of some other corporations. “We weren’t looking for what many companies look for – namely, incentives – because we believe that real business needs to stand on its own without the crutch of government subsidies. What we were looking for was the perfect property to suit our needs. We…wanted a ‘ready to occupy’ plant so we could get to market faster,” he says.
According to Schotter, the road to Concord came through a family connection. “William Niblock encouraged Torde Eide, Alevo’s corporate counsel, to look at the retired Philip Morris plant; he also raved about living in Concord,” Schotter says. “After weighing our options carefully, Alevo decided the Philip Morris plant was well suited for our manufacturing needs; it had the size we were looking for to accommodate growth and was suitable utility-wise.”
Indeed. The 2.5 million square feet of plant space coupled with about 1 million square feet of warehouse, all sitting on 2,000 acres, is prime for a manufacturer that, fully operational, could potentially produce 16.2 gigawatt hours (one GWh equals 1 billion watt hours) each year.
It also didn’t hurt that Alevo’s close supplier, Parker Hannifin, is located in Charlotte. “We knew the area had a great local workforce, and the infrastructure of highway, rail and close proximity to ports all played into our decision,” Schotter adds.
Those reasons notwithstanding, Concord Mayor Scott Padgett claims he knew the real reason Alevo chose Cabarrus County. “In the end, it was the community that sold the people from Alevo. It also didn’t hurt that they love NASCAR.”
The workforce that Schotter mentions was key. When Philip Morris closed, nearly 2,500 local jobs went with it. Now Alevo anticipates that all 2,500 jobs will return to the community within the next few years…a built-in workforce. “We’re going to create a lot of jobs,” Eikland told the people of Cabarrus last October.
According to Schotter, well over 100 people have secured employment thus far – and that may be
closer to 200 – with anticipation of hiring another 200 or more in the near future. Last year, company officials said that one day the plant could boast as many as 6,000 employees; however, the goal at this point is to have 20 assembly lines running, which would necessitate 2,500 jobs.
The question remains, however: How will Alevo’s batteries change the world? Schotter gave Cabarrus Magazine a simple explanation (as simple as possible). “Without getting too technical, our lithium battery chemistry is made of inorganic material. No other lithium battery in the world has the same properties; all others are organic. This means our batteries are non-combustible and non-flammable. Organic batteries have to manage these issues."
“Unlike organic lithium batteries, there are no unpredictable side reactions in our batteries and there is no changed internal resistance over time. Increasing internal resistance is one reason why your cell phone battery dies. The upshot of this is our batteries last a long time. We are over 50,000 cycles and counting in our test batteries, which is well beyond any competitor batteries. This becomes meaningful when you load these batteries into GridBanks and tie them to the electric grid, because the grid is tough on batteries.
“We are not the first to tie batteries to the grid, but none of the other batteries have demonstrated the durability, safety and reliability that the grid needs, so we believe the economics don’t work for them. We consider ourselves the first utility-grade battery because we will last 20 years on the grid, which is the same duty cycle utilities look for with other grid equipment.”
In layman’s terms, the batteries that will soon come out of the plant in Concord could potentially light up a third-world region that previously had been lacking electrical power. They will be the means for the world to be able to store energy that would normally have gone to waste, and use it when needed. The implications of this product could be felt globally one day soon, but that’s no reason to rush things.
Last October, Alevo had anticipated having its first shipments ready by July 2015. That has not occurred as of yet, but Schotter makes no apologies. “At our launch in October, we forecasted that we would have our batteries and GridBanks in production around now,” he explains. “Setting up a vertically-integrated batteries-into-GridBanks facility has never been done before and we are enjoying the challenges we discover along the way because we learn from them.”
“This is our first line; we need to get it right before we can duplicate it. We have assembly line components coming here from all over the world. We get to connect them and make them work together. It’s exciting to see our progress, and even though we are not exactly in step with our forecast from the fall, GridBanks will be deployed soon. Everything is coming together nicely. We have our first line in the testing phase and our first GridBank enclosure will be delivered this month, ready to have our batteries installed.”
Shotter adds that the first GridBanks have all been spoken for and they will be installed in the U.S. market and Europe.
So now we wait for those first shipments, which Schotter says will hopefully come before the end of the year. Regardless, Cabarrus County may be the place where, one day, people will say the problem to the world’s energy crisis was solved. Time will tell.
Photos: Michael A. Anderson Photography
Rendering: Courtesy, Alevo