Akasol AG, based in Darmstadt, Germany, was founded in 1990 and has since emerged as a leading European manufacturer of high-performance, lithium-ion battery systems for commercial vehicles, rail vehicles, industrial vehicles, and ships and boats.
Akasol is one of Europe’s largest suppliers of battery systems for commercial vehicles with hybrid-electric or all-electric drives and is now moving into the North American commercial vehicle market.
Roy Schulde, president of Akasol's North American operations, spoke with HDT about his company’s past, its products, and its future goals in this marketplace.
HDT: Tell our readers a little bit about how Akasol was founded.
Schulde: The company began as a student club at the Technical University in Darmstadt.. A group of engineering students founded it as a nonprofit group to compete in academic contests for world championships in emerging battery technology. Those competitions naturally led to involvement with solar vehicles and eventually expanded into battery systems for light vehicles and electric trucks. The common denominator was the battery technology used in each case. And the systems and technologies these students developed led to the founding of Akasol GmbH in 2008. The company went public in 2018 with a successful IPO and became Akasol AG. And today, that translates into over 30 years of experience in developing and deploying these battery systems.
HDT: Over time, then, the company decided to concentrate on commercial vehicles and vocational applications?
Schulde: Yes. Over time, it became clear that passenger car OEMs were going to concentrate on proprietary battery technology for their electric vehicles. So, Akasol made the decision to concentrate on vocational and industrial machines, including construction and mining equipment, and marine vessels as well as medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses. We have attracted many well-known European customers over the years, including large, blue chip European truck and bus OEMs, such as Daimler and Volvo.
HDT: I wasn’t aware that battery-powered vehicles were moving into mining applications.
Schulde: Yes. There are big benefits for mine operators running full-electric vehicles because that allows them to get away from the massive costs associated with ventilating mines and removing noxious diesel emissions in them. We are working with Medatech in Canada on such applications.
HDT: What is behind Akasol’s decision to move into the North American electric commercial-vehicle market?
Schulde: A lot of it has to do with the global nature of trade today and the fact that our European customers require that we develop products that can be sold in the United States per the Buy America Act guidelines issued by the Federal Transit Administration. Transit buses acquired with federal public transportation funding must have final assembly in the United States and have a certain percentage of the bus cost be of domestic origin. Batteries can make up about 25% of the cost of an electric bus, so it’s necessary for us to manufacture our systems in the U.S. We also want to be able to serve the other commercial vehicle markets in North America with local product.
HDT: What aspects of your products and technology do you feel set you apart from your competitors?
Schulde: We are 'cell agnostic' when it comes to battery technology. We have decades of experience in developing the best available solutions for any given application, whether it demands more power, higher energy levels, a larger number of cycles, or other requirements. We currently offer battery systems that utilize pouch and prismatic cells. We are also in development of a new type of battery system with cylindrical battery cells, which offers higher energy density per pack. We believe they will be applicable for long-haul, heavy-duty electric truck applications where cost and battery weight are limiting design factors. This is similar to battery cell technology employed by Tesla. We showcased a prototype cylindrical cell-based system at the Battery Show in Stuttgart, Germany, earlier this year. And we will have our latest version on display at the Battery Show in Novi, Michigan, later this year.
HDT: Obviously, you are bullish on the developing market for electric trucks in North America.
Schulde: We see buses adopting full electric technology first. And so that market will be our initial focus in the United States. We also have ongoing battery applications for medium-duty trucks with known duty cycles – established, unvarying routes with recharge times over night. So, we are looking carefully at refuse trucks and delivery trucks. We understand that battery technology may not get to a point where we can do all-electric long-haul applications. There you may see fuel-cell technology as the prime power source, which will still need a certain level of battery technology as an intermediate storage medium that we can supply. Generally speaking, our philosophy is there is not one battery solution that fits all applications. And, again, that is why we try to be technology agnostic when assessing a new application.
HDT: Are you in talks with any North American truck OEMs?
Schulde: We are talking with American OEMs. And we expect a major announcement in this area in the near future. But that is all I can say at this time.