Hong Kong Earthshot Prize winner GRST targets golf carts, boats and motorcycles for its eco-friendly lithium-ion batteries

Hong Kong Earthshot Prize winner GRST targets golf carts, boats and motorcycles for its eco-friendly lithium-ion batteries

Hong Kong Earthshot Prize winner GRST targets golf carts, boats and motorcycles for its eco-friendly lithium-ion batteries

GRST, the Hong Kong green technology start-up which won Prince William’s Earthshot Prize, is in talks to deploy its eco-friendly batteries in a range of electrical applications before taking a crack at the electric-vehicle (EV) market, according to a top executive.

It is seeking to deploy lithium-ion batteries made with its patented water-based technology to replace lead-acid batteries in golf carts and boats, and even conventional lithium batteries in electric motorcycles and power banks, said chief operating officer Karen Ng.

“The EV battery industry’s inertia to change is high and the audit process is very long, making the barrier to entry very high,” she said ahead of the inaugural Hong Kong GreenTech Summit held on Monday.

For a new supplier like GRST to convince an EV maker to change to a new type of battery is challenging. It will not only have to undergo a thorough and vigorous process to demonstrate the performance and safety of its batteries but also have to be cost effective compared with mainstream products.

GRST COO Karen Ng said the Hong Kong start-up is seeking to deploy its lithium-ion batteries in a range of applications. Photo: Nathan Tsui

The EV industry typically requires batteries to last for at least 5,000 charge and discharge cycles, which takes 10 years to demonstrate.

“Even running it for 300 cycles will take two to three years just to test the charge and discharge performance, and [only] then you can extrapolate the results,” Ng said.

To keep its production facility running, it needs to pursue other applications to generate sales quickly, she added.

The investment outlay for a facility to assemble smaller batteries is much less and more affordable for GRST, a start-up founded in 2015 and based in the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park at Pak Shek Kok.

GRST is in talks with one of Hong Kong’s “large user of golf carts” to use its lithium-ion batteries and is currently conducting pilot tests, Ng said.

“We know there is a large demand for conventional lithium-ion batteries,” she said. “We are hoping to take it a step further with our water-based products as a replacement.”

GRST said its technology could cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40 per cent during production and by up to 80 per cent during recycling, citing certification from testing services provider TUV Rheinland.

Production of conventional lithium-ion batteries is energy-intensive and requires chemicals made from fossil fuels, but GRST’s technology does away with such requirements.

Recycling conventional batteries is also highly energy-intensive and emits toxic fumes.

Hong Kong lithium battery start-up GRST wins Prince William’s Earthshot Prize

GRST, which was one of five winners of the 2023 Earthshot Prize in November, received £1 million (US$1.2 million) to help scale up operations. It was the first company from Hong Kong or mainland China to win the prestigious award.

While the award raised the company’s profile and attracted many inquiries from potential customers, it will take time to culminate in actual deals, Ng said. This is because of the time required to visit its production facility in Jianshan, Zhejiang province and conduct pilot tests, she added.

GRST’s factory, which started commercial production in April, was expected to generate around US$8 million of sales in 2023, mainly on batteries for electric bikes, Justin Hung Yuen, the CEO and co-founder, said in October. The company is also expected to complete the doubling of its annual capacity to 1 gigawatt hour in March.

Michael Yap, the head of business development at GRST, said an Australian retailer is currently evaluating the performance of its batteries that are linked to a rooftop solar power system. GRST could potentially supply batteries to 10 such stores, he added.

GRST aims to raise US$50 million over the next two years to fund joint ventures in Europe and North America. This includes raising about US$25 million through its series B fundraising round in the next few months for working capital and research and development.

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