By on February 9, 2011

Back in October, a firm called DBM Energy announced that an Audi A2 fitted with one of its “alpha-polymer” (lithium-metal-polymer) batteries would drive 600km without stopping to recharge or swap batteries, a claim that caused TTAC’s Martin Schwoerer (and others) to sit up and take notice. Schowerer noted

There is nothing new under the sun. You can expect battery capacity-per-weight-unit to expand by around 10% per decade, by incremental improvement. Maybe more. Don’t put your money or stake your rep on anything supposedly revolutionary. There is no way a small four-seater electric can do 600 KM non-stop with one set of batteries (with a $500k fuel cell system: yes, but that’s something else).

Then, days later, the trip was made, and DBM’s battery was hailed as having powered the “Miracle of Berlin.” Of course, Schwoerer pointed out that there were a number of unresolved issues with the stunt, including

DBM Energy GmbH is a mailbox company.

DBM’s website states as contact a non-registered entity named DBM Headquarters, which is located in a smallish office building. In that office building, there are several small-sounding firms such as a long-term storage company, a fire-extinguisher company, and a “battery-service” company.

When companies with no reputation defy the expectations of everyone in the EV business, skepticism is going to take hold. Especially when the car in question burns to a crisp shortly after its record breaking trip.

The UPI reports that German OEMs had been highly skeptical of DBM’s achievement, which “proved” that a 770 pound battery could power a car for 375 miles at an average speed of 55 MPH.

Observers say the German automobile giants weren’t amused. The likes of Volkswagen and Daimler have invested billions of dollars in lithium-ion-based battery systems but are behind French and Asian competitors in rolling out an electric car. And then a small start-up shows them all up.

Soon after the trip, however, accusations surfaced that DBM Energy might have cheated. Why didn’t DBM Energy agree to have its battery checked out? Also, for a few minutes toward the end of the drive, the car had been out of sight, so maybe there was an illicit battery recharge? Was the trip just a big scam to lure investors?

The response?

On its Web site, the company reacted to allegations of fraud when setting the record. It provides what it says is a Global Positioning System protocol of the trip and notes that “manipulation on the car or the battery, for example an unobserved recharge, can be absolutely ruled out with this protocol.” Moreover, more than 30 witnesses joined the trip.

The German government, in a reply to questions submitted by the opposition Green Party, backs DBM Energy’s account, saying it had no reason to believe that the vehicle’s record wasn’t valid.

Then, around Christmas is happened:

the record-setting car, parked in a warehouse rented by local utility Gasag, burned. Authorities have been investigating on suspicion of arson.

DBM’s founder Mirko Hannemann claims

“We are allowed to say only this: Neither the car nor DBM Energy is responsible for this fire”… The record-setting car is now junk but the battery pack had apparently been taken out the vehicle before the fire. A non-inflammable battery was in the car, Hannemann said, countering speculation that the battery might have caused the fire. Either way, the KOLIBRI battery can be reproduced and is currently built into a new car

And though Hanneman says accusations that angry competitors burnt the vehicle are “without basis,” he mentions them in saying that the investigation is the responsibility of the prosecutor, which is a handy way of keeping the speculation alive. Of course, the real question is whether DBM’s battery was in the car that burnt or not… after all, the firm’s forklift batteries have started fires before.

So what we have on our hands is quite a mystery. German automakers have long avoided taking EVs seriously, having been more heavily invested in diesels in the short term and hydrogen fuel cells in the long term… and now a 27 year-old inventor has received government support to prove his new battery which blows away the global competition. According to the NYT

The firm expects its pack to operate for 10 years, or 2,000 charge cycles… [and] estimates that the mass-production cost of a 98.8 kWh version of the pack would range from 800 to 1,000 euros, or from about $1,100 to $1,400, which is thousands below current costs.

If these claims are true and the battery is safe, it’s no wonder that some speculate the German OEMs torched the test car. As German alt-energy expert Peter Hoffman puts it
Needless to say, if these claims for vastly extended battery ranges are proven to be true, it could change the entire ballgame of battery electric power vs. hydrogen fuel-cell technology
On the other hand, enough questions remain about DBM, its “Miracle of Berlin,” the subsequent fire and its non-independently-tested battery to suggest that the firm is simply playing its bluff down to the last hand, allowing itself to be cast as the persecuted innovator. In any case, we’ve got one curious mystery on our hands here.
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17 Comments on “Controversial EV Burns, Mystery Deepens...”


  • avatar
    cfclark

    This at least proves the wisdom of locating DBM’s HQ in the same building with a fire-extinguisher company.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Or not, since despite the proximity they weren’t able to prevent the destruction of the car.
       
      I’m still suspicious of this “record”.  It would have been trivially easy to have it monitored and verifed by a 3rd party. That it wasn’t, and that it appears to defy physics, leads me to strongly suspect that something fishy is going on.

  • avatar
    Bytor

    Seems about as credible as EEstor or Steorn.
    If you have a new super-battery, you don’t need a publicity stunt drive, you just need independent third party verification and you will have buyers lining up beyond any ability to supply them, and venture capital breaking down your door to give you bags of money.
    Scam.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      Sure, but that’s only if it’s legit. If it’s not, you need a splashy publicity stunt, maybe a post stunt cleansing fire to cover your tracks and a small number of gullible “investors”.

  • avatar
    protomech

    Snake oil is snake oil. Big claims require big proof to back them up, and taking a drive under tightly controlled conditions doesn’t even begin to satisfy the burden of proof.
     
    Let’s look at each of their claims.
    1. 10 years / 2000 cycles – pretty standard
    2. 330wh/kg – somewhat better than the best production lithium (200wh/kg) cells, though typically when assembled the entire pack averages 140-160 wh/kg. This is a very high claim but not outside of lab batteries. Easily verified with documented & verified single cell testing, which is noticeably absent.
    3. $14/kwh – more than an order of magnitude better than the $300-500/kwh norm.
     
    Points 2 and 3 would change the world, if true. This feels too much like “I want to believe”. Now complete with conspiracy theory and mysterious relief of the ability to back up their claims. Now, if they only had $100 million to further develop the technology …..

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Ah, yes, “The Dog Ate My Homework” at the corporate level.

  • avatar
    NN

    A recent article in the Economist about Planar Energy of Orlando, FL (http://www.economist.com/node/18007516?story_id=18007516) claims that a new battery “printing” method they have pioneered will enable solid-state rechargeable batteries to provide much more power in as little as 18 months.  The article cites, for example, that a Volt that currently is limited to 60km on a full charge could rather see 200km.  While not 600km, this doesn’t jive with Mr. Schwoerer’s 10% per decade gain in efficiency, either.   

  • avatar
    V572625694

    This is just what Grossdeutscheauto wants you to believe. That’s how deep the conspiracy goes!

  • avatar
    JustPassinThru

    It’s right up there with the 100-mpg carburetor – you know, the one that GM bought the patents on, and then had the inventor murdered.  A true humanist was able to photograph the plans, and for ONLY $29.95 he’ll send you the photos and drawings.
     
    What rot.  Laws of physics are not like tax laws – they’re immutable.  Scientific progress happens in steps.  Both the electric light bulb and the airplane had parallel efforts; in the case of Edison, it was only a long lawsuit that won him the patent.
     
    When a “breakthrough” like this comes out, with no outside proof and a suspicious fire…I’m smelling a scam.
     
    Anyone remember the Cold Fusion hoax of 25 years ago?

    • 0 avatar
      Zas

      Wait! Cold fusion DOES WORK!!! ….
       
       
       
       
      …it just takes so much energy to make it work, there’s no true “savings” to it, at least at current technology levels…

  • avatar
    DeadFlorist

    Hmm, shady Euro company makes wild claims of scientific breakthrough.  Through a series of unforunate events, no evidence provided.  All it needs is a connection to a bizarre sci fi cult and it would be Clonaid all over again.

  • avatar
    George B

    How far could an electric car go if every part is hand selected for best performance and the battery pack construction and charge/discharge cycle is set to maximum range at the expense of battery life?  Nitromethane Top Fuel dragster engines achieve incredible power output over a lifetime measured in seconds.
     
    Contrast this EV stunt with Ford’s introduction of the F-150 EcoBoost engine in the Baja 1000.  Ford tortured the engine with tests designed to put 10 years of wear on the engine and then put it in a brutal race.  Both are stunts, but Ford’s stunt attempts to show component ruggedness.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Honestly, this kind of crap isn’t worth the article. Every byte devoted to it (and by necessity carefully crafted to avoid lawsuits from the scammer — err, company in question) lends it more credibility, even if the coverage is extremely skeptical. Every news story, no matter how negative, gives people a reason to think, “Well, they wouldn’t cover it in X if there wasn’t something to it…”
     
    And honestly, this article is absurdly positive. Mystery deepens? Give me a break – there’s no mystery here. It’s exactly the same story that’s played out over, and over, and over, and over. TTAC describing this as a mystery is like Science News reporting the latest moon landing hoax “evidence” as a ‘mystery’. Merely asking if it’s legitimate suggests that it’s even remotely possible that it is, backed up by TTAC’s credibility.

    Treating these guys as anything but criminals is beyond naive; as someone pointed out, they’re no better than the guys selling 100mpg carburetors, and those little vortex things you put in your air intake for another 15hp. The only press coverage these guys should get is a “good riddance” when the jury comes back with a conviction.

  • avatar
    SVT48

    There is always somebody with the magic carb or the infamous “mini supercharger” but we all want it to be real for once.  That’s why the con men are so successful.  Maybe this is the next Preston Tucker who will get financed and succeed (not that the Tucker was a spectacular car but it was advanced in some ways for its time).  In northwest Ohio, Doug Pelmear has been promoting a modified ford V8 “HP2g” engine that supposedly gets 110 mpg on E85 fuel and puts out 400 hp.  Who doesn’t want to see that as an option in your Mustang?  But as usual, no independent testers have been allowed to look at the mechanicals or run independent tests so who knows.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    This at least proves the wisdom of locating DBM’s HQ in the same building with a fire-extinguisher company.

    Just some one had forgotten to take any along.
    My 380 se was a Fatherland edition, it has fire extinguisher mounted just underneath my seat. Is almost like the fighter planes from WWII, the pilot can use it to douse out any cockpit fire.

    • 0 avatar
      Zas

      They were better off moving in next to a chocolate, marshmellow and graham cracker company since all they could have made were SMORES…
       
      (is that being too sarcastic?)

  • avatar
    Michal

    For goodness sakes, this will have the conspiracy theorists in raptures for years.  Big oil killed it!  Mercedes and BMW torched the car!  The CIA destroyed the company!
    Let’s look at the basic facts: the company runs a test where they refuse independent inspection of the equipment being tested.  There is doubt over the legitimacy of the test data.  The car mysteriously burns down and the company does not have another battery on hand to demonstrate.  It screams of being an age old tactic: show something amazing, get money from investors, disappear overnight.
    But that won’t satisfy the conspiracy theorists.  I once met a very nice woman who assured me she knew someone who built a car that traveled for 750km on a single electric charge.  No, she couldn’t take me to see the inventor, no, scientists were not allowed to test the claims.  The car was apparently confiscated by the government.  Sigh.


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