ZENN: Not just another granola-lovin’ automaker

June 18, 2009   by Corinne Lynds, AutoPlant

With increasing focus on environmental initiatives, new vehicle emission regulations and energy efficiency, it’s nearly impossible to escape the buzz surrounding electric vehicles. In fact, tracking which international automaker will be first to market has become the pet project for many industry analysts.

A recent announcement from ZENN Motor Co. (ZMC)—a homegrown candidate whose acronym stands for zero emission no noise—has Canadians hopeful they might just be first to drive a highway-ready electric vehicle (EV) off the production line.

Toronto-based ZMC announced March 31 it would roll out its first highway-capable EVs in the fall. The company currently offers a battery-powered low-speed vehicle (LSV) with a range of 56.3 kilometres and a top speed of 40.2 kilometres per hour. The new model, dubbed the cityZENN, will reach speeds of up to 128.7 kilometres per hour, have a range of 650 kilometres and be rechargeable in less than five minutes.

“We need to move away from chemical battery technology to a whole new way of storing energy for electric vehicles, with a solid infrastructure to support global roll-out,” said Ian Clifford, CEO of ZMC at the company’s annual meeting.

Higher energy density than lithium ion

Backing this claim, the cityZENN will be powered using ultra capacitor technology through ZMC’s partnership with Austin, Tex.-based EEStor Inc. The commercialization and implementation of EEStor’s ultra capacitor will power ZMC and ZENNergy drivetrain-powered vehicles to travel at speeds and distances similar to those of internal combustion-powered vehicles, but at a fraction of the cost and with zero emissions.

Under the agreement, ZMC holds the worldwide exclusive rights to incorporate EEStor’s energy storage technology for new passenger vehicles up to 1,400-kilogram curb weight; golf cart and utility vehicles and the conversion of any class of used internal combustion four-wheel vehicles to electric.

The secretive, media-shunning EEStor is reportedly working on a novel electrical energy storage unit (EESU) that has several times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries at a fraction of the cost, and with a functionally infinite lifespan. They’re made with aluminum oxide-coated barium titanate powder and like ultra capacitors, they charge in minutes if enough current is available.

“There’s a whole bunch of advantages to this technology over lithium-ion technologies. We believe it’s kind of a showstopper for other technologies. It’s enough of a paradigm shift and it’s disruptive enough that I think it will focus the industry over on solid-state energy storage, which is what this technology represents,” says Clifford.

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