Singapore is now charging ahead with its electric dreams with a slew of incentives and initiatives that support the national plan of phasing out Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles by 2040.
Electric vehicles (EVs) have been picking up pace in Singapore’s drive towards sustainability. This means that in about 20 years down the road, petrol stations may be obsolete as vehicle owners turn to EV charging stations to ‘fuel’ up instead.
However, once the adoption rate picks up, Singapore will face an impending issue of EV battery waste when they reach the end of their lifespan.
When batteries degrade to a capacity below a specified amount, they become unfit for use in EVs due to stringent requirements in the automotive industry. In other cases, battery packs stop functioning even at optimal capacities, because some cells are damaged, rendering the whole pack unusable.
These spent batteries then go to recycling facilities and landfills. However, Singapore’s only landfill is expected to run out of space by 2035. To solve this problem, local enterprise GenPlus is on a mission to breathe new life into old EV batteries.
It develops technology for repurposing spent batteries by reconstituting battery modules still fit for use into a new energy storage, and these second-life batteries are now used predominantly in backup energy systems.
The story of GenPlus
Founded by Lim Ming Chiat and three other co-founders, GenPlus has been building energy storage systems from scratch since 2013.
From a team of four, this tech enterprise has grown to over 20 full-time employees dedicated to the advancement of sustainable technologies. This includes providing energy storage systems and solutions to clients in various applications, such as in hazardous environments or remote areas that are not connected to a power grid.
The team is now expanding into new fields, like electrification of watercraft and beyond, as well as the repurposing of spent EV batteries, which is an important function in the burgeoning EV industry in Singapore.
What differentiates GenPlus from other bigger players in the industry is its ability to provide tailored energy solutions to clients that need specially designed systems that work in unique environments.
“We grew organically, without investors, for the longest time. But there’s a lot of competition from many companies out there, so it was really challenging trying to compete with the big boys,” said Ming Chiat, the managing director of GenPlus.
Surviving financial hardships
In the early days, the team was very lean and Ming Chiat had to juggle multiple hats. He recognised that the biggest obstacle as a new small firm was gaining the trust and attention of clients, and convincing them to engage the company’s services.
Ming Chiat went the extra mile to personally deliver products to clients. On the eve of one Chinese New Year, he even went to Malaysia, carrying all the batteries by himself, and did the deliveries. As business picked up, he started recruiting more people to meet the growing demands.
“We delivered whatever we promised, and that’s how we developed our credentials. Clients started to trust us as we’ve conscientiously built a proven track record,” he shared.
The small firm gradually grew, thanks to helpful partnerships with other companies like Narada-Asia Pacific and government organisations such as Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and A*STAR.
Over the years, the team worked closely together to deliver solutions faster and more affordably than their competitors.
Reconsidering GenPlus’ business strategy
GenPlus has come up with tailor-made solutions to energy storage system applications in remote cities around Southeast Asia, where energy was inaccessible and power outages were frequent.
Amidst the Covid-19 travel restrictions however, conducting their business overseas became challenging.
“Many of our orders were postponed or cancelled, and we could no longer provide systems integration services to customers abroad,” explained Ming Chiat.
The team then made a bold decision to set up a manufacturing facility locally last December.
It was a stressful time for them, but they remained optimistic as they planned for new business growth on home soil to strategically reposition the company for better opportunities when travel bans are eventually lifted.
GenPlus also developed new battery testing technology with the support of ESG to reduce the time taken for their employees to test their second-life batteries.
In the past, someone had to constantly monitor the screen. Any deviation could result in the battery packs being damaged.
The new automated screening technology increased productivity and optimised manpower distribution, since several cycles and different profiles can be done automatically in less than half the time.
They also adopted a new semi-automated assembling process through ESG that greatly optimised the manpower required to produce these battery packs. It previously took six people to assemble the batteries but with automation, only two or three employees are needed to perform the same task within a much shorter time.
Employees welcome the new machines as they can move on from mundane tasks to diverse opportunities that add more value to their career growth.
Although Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works, GenPlus is determined to keep things moving.
“There is responsibility on my part to my employees and their families. My team has been faithful and stayed on with us through tough times,” said Ming Chiat.
“They believe in me, so I have to keep growing our company. When we come to a point where we feel stuck, we need to change in order to find an opportunity to continue.”
Charging its electric dreams
With a strong growth mindset, GenPlus is constantly looking for ways to position themselves to capitalise on growth as EVs start gaining traction locally and regionally.
In line with Singapore’s goal of phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles in place of EVs by 2040, Ming Chiat shared their plans to capitalise on this trend.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has projected the deployment of 60,000 EV charging points islandwide by 2030, up from its initial target of 28,000.
“More charging points mean increased power demands from the grid, which might be too much for one carpark to handle. How we come into the picture is by providing pre-charged energy storage, much like a giant power bank, that can be used to charge cars instead of drawing energy directly from the power grid,” he explained.
The infrastructure of a city’s power grid cannot change overnight, so a sharp increase in power demands from peak EV charging periods might destabilise the grid, leading to outages.
The advantage of incorporating energy storage systems is to balance out the power draw from the main grid by supplying EV chargers with pre-charged energy that is slowly replenished during off-peak hours.
Today, battery recycling technology is still in its infancy, but the same challenge remains for this tech engineering company: striking a balance between profitability and practicality.
“The necessity for second-life batteries has yet to reach a critical mass in our region that would allow us to do this cost-effectively. But we feel that if we don’t do it today, we’re already lagging behind,” said Ming Chiat.
The GenPlus team is also charting new paths for business growth in the maritime sectors. Naturally, fears of change and new directions were raised, as these are sectors that electrification is not typically applied to, especially when it comes down to cost.
“My team is open-minded, and have seen how fast things are changing. They realise that there’s much more to lose in the long run if we don’t seize the opportunity to change now,” Ming Chiat clarified.
GenPlus is currently in talks with industry players to revolutionise how ships and other vessels can lower emissions by incorporating the company’s technology. For example, there are plans underway for ships to hybridise their power use with energy storage systems instead of relying solely on diesel.
Electrification of these vessels will not just lower emissions, but also improve cost-efficiency. For instance, while a vessel is idling, it can tap on its battery for power instead of leaving the engines running and consuming diesel for low power demands in hotel loads, such as lighting.
The future of GenPlus shines brightly as the team sets their sights on the electrification of more vehicles. They plan to continue supporting the energy needs and infrastructure for rural cities in neighboring countries, and are making plans to expand beyond Southeast Asia.
This article was written in collaboration with Enterprise Singapore.
Featured Image Credit: GenPlus
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