Startup Sunday: Ample raises $160m from Shell and others for EV battery-swap stations

Diverging estimates of renewable energy installed


In this installment of Startup Sunday, we have three companies making potentially disruptive innovations in solar, home energy, and electric vehicles.

Ample’s modular EV battery swap station

San Francisco’s Ample raised $160 million in series C funding to charge up its swappable, modular EV battery system. The company emerged from stealthy operations in March after seven years, and now seeks to develop commercially viable automated battery swap stations.

Ample’s financial backers include Shell, Repsol, Japan-based Eneos, and Thailand-based PTT.

The aim of an Ample battery swap station is to eliminate the need for charging, allowing drivers to drive in with a nearly depleted battery and drive off with a fully charged battery. The swap can occur in under 10 minutes, Ample said.

Ample battery swap station.

Image: Ample

Ample is based on Lego brick-like set of small batteries that are compatible with many different EV models. The station’s light, prefab design should allow for quick deployment, said Ample. When not actively swapping out batteries, the station can act as an energy storage pod, capturing renewable energy.

The company said its station would deliver a full charge 3-10x less expensively than current fast charging stations, is cheaper to build and install, and can deliver energy at a price point 10-20% below gas.

The company said it takes about 20 vehicle uses at a station to break even.

Currently, five Ample battery stations are operational in San Francisco. The company said this new round of funding will drive growth in the U.S. and internationally.

ROSI the unriviter

As the panel production ramps, so too will the supply of end-of-life modules, which are often more cost effective to send to a landfill than to recycle. France-based ROSI aims to change this by extracting value from decommissioned solar panels. Think of it as a sort of reverse Rosie the Riviter.

Perhaps ROSI says “we can undo it!”?

ROSI said its process allows for deep separation of laminated materials. Its process uses physical, thermal, and soft chemistry to recover both ultrapure silicon from the cell and the silver fingers that collect electric current generated by each cell. Together, these materials make up over 60% of a panel’s cost, said ROSI.

ROSI said its process differs from the kind of aggressive chemical reaction process that other PV recyclers currently use.

ROSI recycles at wafer-cutting and end-of-life.

Image: ROSI Solar

ROSI also repurposes silicon waste, or “kerf”, into recycled ultrapure silicon. When silicon ingots are cut into wafers, a diamond wire slices the material, but more than 40% of the silicon is lost as micro-chips that are flushed away liquid that is used in the cutting process.

This sludge contains pure silicon, and currently is considered waste to be disposed of at the manufacturer’s expense. ROSI’s process separates the silicon fragments from the sawing liquid, and repurposes the granules to make more silicon ingots.

The 2017-founded startup recently announced plans to build a recycling facility in Grenoble, France. It said it secured a contract with Soren, a French trade association, and the plant is expected to open before the end of 2022.

Home energy platform

Houston-based Branch Energy announced $4.5 million in seed funding for its green energy delivery and home energy improvement consulting services. It expects to sign up its first customers in Texas this fall.

This round of financing was led by Comcast Ventures with participation from Global Founders Capital, Inovia Capital, and Assaf Wand, who is CEO of home insurance unicorn Hippo.

Branch was co-founded by Alex Ince-Cushman, ex-Palantir and former nuclear fusion researcher; Daniel MacDonald, a serial B2C entrepreneur; and Todd Burgess, an energy industry veteran. The trio will use the funds to expand the team, and support the data and analytic infrastructure development that drives the company’s offering.

Branch will first launch in deregulated energy markets in the U.S. where homeowners can choose their energy providers. It will offer renewable energy contracts, acting as the billing, payment, and customer service platform, while also consulting on the install and finance of smart energy devices.

Branch dives deep into the details for its customers, combining energy usage data, satellite imagery, hyper-local weather forecasts, and AI to calculate the economic benefit a homeowner can expect to realize from each device for homeowners. Branch also coordinates financing and installation.

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