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An in-depth look at how Envia failed to bring its new battery tech to GM

Not long ago, Envia Systems' innovative battery looked like it would break barriers. The "High Capacity Manganese Rich (HCMR)" technology was supposed to provide General Motors with an affordable battery that could power the next-generation Chevy Volt and move other, pure EVs at least 200 miles on a single charge. Now, though, the Silicon Valley-based company looks more like the latest cautionary tale for anyone trying to successfully enter the lithium battery and electric vehicle space.

This 7,600-word feature article could serve as a paper in university courses in public policy, engineering and global economics. Steve LeVine, Quartz's Washington correspondent, spent two years writing it after studying legal documents and interviewing dozens of Envia staff members.

This epic tale starts in late November 2012 at a Mexican restaurant in Palo Alto.

This epic tale starts in late November 2012 at a Mexican restaurant in Palo Alto, CA, organized by, at the time, Envia CEO Atul Kapadia and CTO Sujeet Kumar. They'd been hoping to tell staff about a major deal signed with GM giving Envia the rare opportunity to become a supplier to a global automaker. That moment happened a little while later as Kapadia drove away and took a call from GM that the deal was signed. Back at Envia's office in nearby Newark, the CEO made the announcement to employees and the room erupted.

A year later, the company is still in operation but it's basically hanging on the edge of a cliff. The deal with GM has fallen apart and the automaker has accused Envia of misrepresenting its technology. Critics of US government funding for cleantech are waiting with zeal for more arguments to cast out in Washington, as Envia was awarded government funds. Envia has its own battle in courtrooms as Kapadia and other recently fired colleagues have accused Kumar of fraud and intellectual property theft. Nanotech startup NanoeXa Corporation filed a suit earlier in the year against Envia alleging intellectual property theft of its battery cathode technology.

For students, there's a great deal of information to process in the article, some that goes well beyond the company in question. It touches on policy and global economics, for example, and looks at how the Obama administration choose EVs and lithium batteries as a strategic tool in its competitive battle with China. The US Department of Energy's APRA-E program received about 3,700 requests for funding, but only one percent made the cut. Envia was one, receiving a $4-million grant that was to be jointly carried out with the federal government's Argonne national laboratory. Anyone who wants more details can study tables and read all about Envia's cathode intellectual property, ownership of which is still being contested in the NanoeXa lawsuit. Read the whole thing here.

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