For seven years, ZincFive co-founder Tim Hysell has expertly guided the creation and deployment of the world’s first nickel-zinc rechargeable battery technology. He founded and chaired PSI Acquisitions and Millennium Power Solutions—where the UPStealth® was invented—and ZincFive, which establishes nickel-zinc as only the fifth rechargeable battery to scale across the world.
Mr. Hysell has more than three decades of entrepreneurial success in founding, owning and directing profitable business operations in renewable energy, banking, manufacturing, and medical devices. His companies partnered with global giants, such as Siemens, Phillips and Hewlett-Packard. He excels at corporate transaction negotiations, fundraising, merger and acquisitions, IPO preparation, market share growth, and board leadership. Prior to owning his own businesses, Mr. Hysell worked for General Electric, Hewlett-Packard and Providence Health Systems. Mr. Hysell is co-founder and board member of Pacific West Bank in Oregon and a former youth football, basketball, and baseball coach.
Vishal Sapru (VS), Research Manager for Energy Storage & Critical Power Group had the opportunity to conduct a Movers & Shakers interview with Tim Hysell (TH), Co-founder of ZincFive.
VS: Can you start by providing our readers a brief overview of ZincFive?
TH: ZincFive is the world leader in innovation and delivery of nickel-zinc-based energy storage and delivery solutions for mission-critical applications in intelligent transportation, mission-critical IT, motive power, and more. With 74 patents awarded and 29 patents pending, we leverage nickel-zinc battery chemistry within our solutions to provide high-power density and performance simultaneously with superior safety and environmental advantages.
VS: Please, describe your product/technology/solution for our readers? How different is it from what is already available in the market?
TH: We offer nickel-zinc battery-based uninterruptible power supply (UPS) solutions and nickel-zinc battery systems for high-power-density applications. Nickel-zinc batteries provide significant power, safety and environmental advantages over traditional lead-acid and high-power-density lithium-ion batteries. Nickel-zinc battery performance includes high power and energy densities, in addition to rapid charging/discharging. They are fail-safe, thermally stable and fully recyclable with no hazardous materials. Nickel-zinc batteries have a long operating life with high cycle counts, low self-discharge and a long shelf life. They are lightweight, compact batteries, with no periodic maintenance required, and they have a wide operating temperature range, making them suitable for a broad range of indoor and outdoor mission-critical applications. We have two families of UPS products designed to address challenges in specific markets.
Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) have entered an ‘Always-On’ era where uptime for mission-critical systems is paramount. The development of integrated and dependent systems is driving the need for 100% uptime and continuous operation. Our UPStealth Uninterruptible Power Supply has become the fastest growing UPS for ITS and has been adopted by more than 140 departments of transportation in North America. The UPStealth provides transportation departments the opportunity to upgrade to an easy-to-install, self-maintained solution with superior performance, environmental and safety advantages over a traditional lead-acid UPS.
Power protection for mission-critical IT in data center, industrial and facilities environments is vital to operations and revenue. Our ZincFive UPS is an agile UPS for mission-critical IT that offers nickel-zinc batteries with state-of-the-art modular inverter technology. Nickel-zinc batteries are the ideal batteries for UPS backup, surpassing volatile lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries across multiple critical parameters. They are less hazardous and more powerful than lead-acid, safer than lithium-ion and environment friendly.
VS: What are some of the challenges ZincFive is likely to face and what strategy is in place to overcome it?
TH: Our goal is to establish nickel-zinc (NiZn) as the 5th major rechargeable battery to scale commercially on a global basis; hence, the name of our company, ZincFive. While that’s a challenging goal, our strategy is proving successful across multiple markets. The foremost challenge for any battery technology is proof of performance in specific applications. Integrating new battery technology into existing applications that have historically used other battery chemistries is also demanding. From the start, our strategy has focused on providing NiZn-based solutions rather than batteries as a single component. This provides us the opportunity to meet the proof of performance and integration challenges in a way that makes it easy for customers to adopt our technology.
VS: What is the unique value proposition of ZincFive and what are your key competitive differentiators?
TH: ZincFive offers reliable, safe and powerful solutions for high-power-density energy applications delivering a low total cost of ownership. We uniquely combine our nickel-zinc battery technology within innovative solutions, providing customers a complete answer to their energy storage and delivery needs. Our nickel-zinc batteries are a key differentiator in all our solutions and offer significant advantages over volatile lead-acid and lithium-ion chemistries, as outlined earlier. Our battery management system and innovation in product packaging and application-specific features also serve to differentiate our solutions.
VS: What is your strategy to offer best value to customer for the price, compared to similar offerings from competitors?
TH: The NiZn battery chemistry is mostly comprised of common elements, widely available on a global basis with proven, reliable, supply chains. Materials costs for NiZn batteries at comparative scales with lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries are competitive. Further, NiZn batteries can be built utilizing existing battery manufacturing tools and processes requiring little-to-no new manufacturing technology development. The ability to leverage supply chains for common elements as well as existing manufacturing automation creates the basis for this technology to be cost competitive. Beyond the battery, we strive to offer high value-added capabilities in our NiZn-based systems. We are seeing strong adoption across multiple markets for our solutions approach, offering customers a lower total cost of ownership than traditional competing solutions. As we scale our technology, our competitive value will only get stronger.
VS: Continued innovation is the key to success in this growing industry. How is the process of innovation managed at ZincFive?
TH: ZincFive has a large, comprehensive and compelling IP portfolio, including patents and trade secrets, providing ample evidence of our ability to innovate. We see innovation as a cultural value that is applied across all functions of our business from R&D to product development, manufacturing and customer applications. TnOur innovation process starts with our leadership team constantly evaluating our technology and market opportunities, testing the technology internally and with customers to generate insight. Customer applications is an area where the company excels in combining unique technology with value-added features to solutions that customers find compelling. One of our key examples is our Living Hinge battery utilized in the intelligent transportation segment. It is a patented, ingenious design that combines our unique NiZn batteries with a form factor and battery management system unlike anything available. The Living Hinge provides an energy-storage–and-delivery solution where no other technology can neither fit nor perform. Customers are delighted; our IP portfolio expands; and we cycle through this same process again to keep the innovation wheel turning.
VS: What do you want the company to accomplish in the next couple of years and how would you define success for ZincFive?
TH: The next couple of years will see the company grow rapidly as we continue to penetrate existing markets in intelligent transportation, mission-critical IT, and motive applications and expand into additional markets through partner OEM and supplier relationships. We define success in two equal objectives; the first being customer adoption of our nickel-zinc based solutions across multiple, large markets. The second objective, which I stated earlier in this interview, is the establishment of nickel-zinc (NiZn) as the 5th major rechargeable battery to scale commercially on a global basis.
VS: Could you elaborate on the acceptance or adoption of your product/solution in the marketplace and are there any positive client testimonials that can be shared with us?
TH: More than 140 departments of transportation in North America have adopted our UPStealth solution for intelligent transportation systems. We have thousands of systems installed with many repeat customers. Some notable customers have responded enthusiastically about their experience with our company and products.
“We didn’t have the budget to maintain the lead-acid batteries, which sat idle for years. We were looking for something else—the next generation of uninterruptible power supply. After testing the UPStealth, we found its size, weight and ease of installation was game changing and as we develop new signals across the City, we’ll incorporate the UPStealth. We’re looking forward to protecting more of our intersections with ZincFive’s nickel-zinc UPS.”
—Eddie Tsui, Sustainable Streets Division’s Traffic Signal Shop Manager and Traffic Signal Engineer, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
“The battery’s environmentally friendly materials mean there’s no risk for hazardous material spills, electrical shock or other catastrophes associated with lead-acid batteries.”
—Scott Cramer, Traffic Signal Engineer, Oregon Department of Transportation
VS: Do you foresee the acceptance of your product/technology/solution in the marketplace to have an influence on the direction of the overall market going forward?
TH: We see NiZn technology and solutions raising the bar. Expectations for battery-based energy solutions will now include high power density in compact form factors that are fail safe and environment friendly, with the ability to operate in harsh environments. This combination does not currently exist in any single battery chemistry other than nickel-zinc, and we don’t see emerging chemistries surpassing nickel-zinc capabilities. The availability of NiZn will impact solutions, particularly in the uninterruptible power and motive markets because of the high value-add of nickel-zinc to the overall solution performance and as an alternative to underperforming lead-acid batteries and volatile lithium-ion batteries.
VS: As a general conclusion, what do you think the future holds for such solutions and, more specifically, what role can we expect ZincFive to play in shaping the future of the industry?
TH: ZincFive will be leveraging the value drivers of nickel-zinc technology to propel us into new markets and applications. We will continue to innovate in nickel-zinc battery chemistry and packaging as a compelling alternative to lead-acid and lithium-ion. The impact on the energy storage and delivery markets will be significant as nickel-zinc becomes the next battery chemistry to scale globally across industrial and consumer markets. We also expect to see nickel-zinc-based solutions from multiple vendors proliferate across a variety of markets.
VS: What are your company’s marketing and product positioning strategies? Do you plan to form any strategic alliances / partnerships?
TH: ZincFive has an established position as a provider of reliable, safe, and powerful energy solutions based on NiZn technology. Our solutions are developed and marketed to provide a ‘whole product’ to customers, meaning we address their full set of needs for energy storage and delivery. We innovate ‘beyond the battery’ to create integrated solutions that disrupt the status quo.
The company has established multiple partnerships to date and is in discussions with several other strategic partners to address additional markets with our products and technology. One recently announced example is our partnership with Econolite in the intelligent transportation sector where we re-brand our transportation UPS solution under the Econolite name. Other relationships in development are focused on technology licensing and distribution.
VS: What is unique about your company with regard to offering the best and differentiated service experience to customers?
TH: As a solution provider and not just a battery component provider for mission-critical applications, we have an obligation to provide superior service. ‘Mission critical’ demands a higher level of reliability, performance, and support than most industrial or consumer markets. We have grown up serving mission-critical environments, and it has shaped our culture and organization. It is in our DNA. We differentiate our service with rapid initial response and quick escalation to the right group within our company to keep our customers operational. We have repeat customers who appreciate the service and support we deliver, and we enjoy strong word-of-mouth referrals within our customer communities.
VS: Please describe the importance and focus of your company toward building and strengthening the brand equity of your offering?
TH: We’re focused on building the ZincFive brand and the NiZn technology brand. Winning in mission-critical environments means a lot to our brands. It provides the proof statement about our solutions and technology, which inspires confidence about ZincFive and NiZn technology within the broader energy storage and delivery markets. This is what is enabling the growth of the company and the numerous partner discussions and arrangements we are working on. Over the long term, we see the NiZn technology brand gaining wider recognition than our company brand because of the large partners that will be promoting NiZn technology broadly across industrial and consumer markets.
VS: What kind of customer feedback mechanism do you have in place to ensure that the product development and innovation matches market and customer needs?
TH: As a solutions provider, we focus on solving customer’s problems with complex, multifeatured products. Development of these products requires close partnership with customers to ensure we are getting it right. We drive a closed loop process to ensure customer success that includes the innovation process outlined earlier, combined with constant customer feedback once our product is in the market. We gather customer feedback from customer interviews, sales, and distribution partner feedback, as well as conferences and customer forums. The customer feedback informs our product and technology roadmaps to close the loop on the development of the right improvements, enhancements, and breakthroughs needed to keep us competitive.
VS: How do you compare yourself with top competitors in terms of offering best-in-class solution, with a full complement of features and functionality?
TH: While we are a young company, we are pleased with our ability to enter new markets and displace entrenched competitors. We work hard at understanding customer needs and then bringing out a disruptive solution that solves customer problems in a way they have not experienced. As mentioned earlier, our UPStealth UPS is taking significant market share from large incumbents. Our customers adopt our NiZn battery technology and innovative solutions because we provide capabilities and functionality missing in competitive systems.
VS: What are the unique features of your product/technology that address unmet customer needs and competitors are unable to replicate and replace?
TH: Our patented NiZn battery technology certainly brings disruptive capabilities to our solutions. The combined performance, safety and environmental advantages of nickel-zinc chemistry are compelling (versus current battery chemistry choices in the market), but that is only part of the story. We innovate in battery chemistry and form factors but also with integration of nickel-zinc batteries placed in our partners’ solutions and ours. This combination provides customers products that powerfully outperform their current solutions in ways that competitors cannot duplicate.
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