Battery bike breakthrough?

The 2012 zER
Neal Saiki is claiming his battery has 60 per cent more capacity than existing units on the market, including the ones from Zero, the electric motorcycle company he founded.

Zero Motorcycles may end up wishing founder Neal Saiki had stayed around.

Saiki left Zero last year and went on to found NTS Works, Inc., in Santa Cruz, CA. The new company focuses strictly on technology development; now, they’ve developed a new battery that could be the next big step in the development of electric motorcycles.

“What my battery technology allows for is much higher range from electric motorcycles without the huge cost increase,” Saiki told us by email. “The price is still going to be 2x compared to a gas bike, but a least it will not quit after riding just 60 miles. ”

On his company’s website, Saiki says the new battery will give a motorcycle “a real 100 miles range when ridden the way that motorcycles are generally ridden.” That’s in contrast to claims from electric motorcycle manufacturers who constantly tout EPA range ratings that somehow, real-world users never seem able to achieve.

Saiki's upgradeable batteries could be a boon to electric racers.

Of course, it’s easy for Saiki to say this; only real-world riding will be able to back up what he says.

If you’re interested in electric motorcycles, or electric vehicles in general, it’s worth checking out the new battery’s site here; there’s much more information than we can share here, but here’s a start.

Saiki claims the battery is inexpensive to manufacture, coming in at half the cost of pouch cells that electric motorcycle manufacturers are using right now. He also claims they’re upgradeable, and serviceable – words you don’t frequently hear from e-bike makers. He told us that  “I think that almost any repair shop can upgrade the battery.  Working with a battery is always a little dangerous, but mine is as safe as it can get.”

Saiki says he developed his new battery by figuring out how to compress li-ion 18650 cells together to form a mega-battery; formerly battery builders had been connecting them through welded nickel strips. Saiki replaces this time-consuming and fragile method by cramming the cells into a steel cylinder.

The new battery offers more than a 60 per cent increase in capacity over existing designs, Saiki says. Plus, battery companies are developing more powerful li-ion 18650 cells already, so his new battery design will benefit when those are brought to market.

Saiki says he's not planning on building replacement aftermarket batteries for existing motorcycles, like the Brammo Empulse.

Using Sakai’s technology, a 15 kwh motorcycle battery will take 1440 individual li-ion 18650 cells to construct. The battery price is largely dependent on the price of the cells; obviously, sales volume will have a lot to do with that. Saiki says he’s in touch with three different OEMs in three different industries, so he may be able to get that volume up by the end of the summer.

Saiki’s not planning to build aftermarket replacement batteries for other motorcycles, as he says it would be hard to avoid wasting space that way. His battery is very compact in its current configuration.

Saiki also has an answer for all the skeptics who ask about the long-term future of depleted batteries. Once they’re depleted enough to make them unsuitable for motorcycle use, Saiki says he’s got another home in mind for them: electric cars. Since cars don’t have the same size and weight restrictions as motorcycles, Saiki says they’re an ideal home for batteries that aren’t pumping out maximum power.

So, here’s the question: Are Saiki’s claims accurate? If his new battery is as wonderful as he says, he might have just paved the way for a breakthrough for electric motorcycles. Fact is, for e-bikes to become popular, the price is going to have to come down, and the range is going to have to drastically improve.

Let’s hope he’s right about the new powerplant. The last couple of years have seen fantastic advances for electric motorcycles, but they’re still hampered by the problem of too much hype creating unrealistic expectations. It would be disappointing to see this happen again; a dramatic increase in electric motorcycles’ range is just what they need.


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