This August brought the collapse of two emblematic energy storage firms.
In the U.S., lead-carbon battery maker Axion Power International filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In the U.K., grid-scale storage system developer Camborne Energy Storage went into administration.
Both firms ran aground after failing to secure cash to fund operations. Axion, of New Castle, Pennsylvania, had $6.6 million in debts and only around $47,000 in assets, according to local press reports.
The company was a veteran of the energy storage industry, having been founded in 2003. As reported in GTM back in 2009, Axion aimed to give lithium-ion a run for its money with an advanced lead-acid battery equipped with carbon electrodes.
The electrode technology, from a Russian company that had been developing it for superconductors, was supposed to give the battery a lifespan three to four times longer than batteries using traditional lead negative electrodes.
Axion invested about $50 million in adopting it for use in batteries and secured a supply deal with big battery maker Exide Technologies. After having been listed on the over-the-counter bulletin board in 2003, in 2014 the company graduated to Nasdaq.
It struggled, though, and delisted a year and a half later after its stock spent a month trading below $1. Attempts to commercialize the technology ran into difficulties, too.
In March last year, Axion filed an 8-K form with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), warning shareholders of significant financial hardship after a dozen attempts to get the lead-carbon battery to market.
The company’s production line had not made a battery since 2016, it later emerged. Desperately seeking a way out, Axion pivoted away from manufacturing and toward research and development with a business model based on technology licensing.
Even that didn’t work, though. A 10-K SEC form filed in July revealed that Axion was operating with a skeleton staff of four and pinning all its hopes on a single commercial agreement, with a Chinese company called Fengfan Co Ltd.
From 2015 through 2018, the filing said, “Axion initiated over 30 separate efforts to identify shareholder-enhancing transactions. Except for Fengfan’s interest in partnering with the company, all other efforts have failed.”