Singapore is now advancing its electric dreams with a range of incentives and initiatives that support the national plan to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040.
Electric vehicles (EVs) have picked up pace in Singapore's drive for sustainability. This means that in around 20 years, gas stations could be out of date as vehicle owners instead turn to EV charging stations to “refuel”.
However, once the adoption rate picks up, Singapore will face an impending problem of EV battery waste when they reach the end of their life.
When batteries are degraded to a capacity below a certain amount, they become unusable for use in electric vehicles due to the stringent requirements in the automotive industry. In other cases, battery packs will no longer work even at their optimum capacity because some cells will be damaged and the entire pack will become unusable.
These old batteries then end up in recycling plants and landfills. However, Singapore's only landfill is expected to run out of space by 2035. To solve this problem, the local company GenPlus has set itself the goal of breathing new life into old EV batteries.
It develops technologies for reusing old batteries by reconstructing usable battery modules in a new energy storage device, and these second-life batteries are now predominantly used 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.
This technology company has grown from a team of four to over 20 full-time employees who are dedicated to the further development of sustainable technologies. This includes providing energy storage systems and solutions to customers in a variety of applications, such as hazardous environments or remote areas that are not connected to a power grid.
Energy storage systems integrated in solar collectors / Photo credits: GenPlus
The team is now expanding into new areas such as marine electrification and beyond, as well as reusing used electric vehicle batteries, a key role in the emerging electric vehicle industry in Singapore.
What sets GenPlus apart from other major players in the industry is its ability to provide tailored energy solutions to customers who need specially designed systems for use in unique environments.
“We have grown organically for the longest time without investors. But there is a lot of competition from a lot of companies out there so it was really a challenge to compete with the big guys, ”said Ming Chiat, GenPlus General Manager.
Survive financial hardship
At first the team was very slim and Ming Chiat had to juggle several hats. He realized that as a new small business, the biggest obstacle was gaining customers' trust and attention and convincing them to use the company's services.
Energy solutions from GenPlus for an island resort / Photo credits: GenPlus
Ming Chiat went the extra mile to personally deliver products to customers. He even traveled to Malaysia on the eve of a Chinese New Year, carrying all the batteries himself and doing the deliveries. As business picked up, he started hiring more people to meet the growing demands.
“We kept our promises and that's how we developed our references. Customers started to trust us as we have painstakingly built a proven track record, ”he shared.
GenPlus's New Facility / Image Credit: Vulcan Post
The small business gradually grew thanks to helpful partnerships with other companies such as Narada-Asia Pacific and government organizations such as Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and A * STAR.
Over the years the team has worked closely to deliver solutions faster and cheaper than the competition.
Rethinking GenPlus' business strategy
GenPlus has developed bespoke solutions for energy storage system applications in remote cities in Southeast Asia where energy was inaccessible and power outages were frequent.
One of GenPlus' projects on an offshore fish farm / Image source: GenPlus
However, amid the travel restrictions of Covid-19, conducting their business overseas has become a challenge.
"Many of our orders were postponed or canceled, and we were no longer able to offer systems integration services to our customers abroad," explains Ming Chiat.
Last December, the team made the brave decision to build a production facility on site.
It was a stressful time for them, but they remained optimistic as they planned to grow new businesses on home soil to strategically reposition the company for better opportunities when travel bans are eventually lifted.
GenPlus has also developed a new battery test technology, with support from ESG, to reduce the time it takes its employees to test their second-life batteries.
It used to be that someone had to constantly monitor the screen. Any deviation can damage the batteries.
The new automated screening technology increased productivity and optimized personnel distribution, as several cycles and different profiles can be carried out automatically in less than half the time.
They also introduced a new semi-automated assembly process through ESG, which has significantly optimized the manpower requirements for manufacturing these battery packs. It used to take six people to assemble the batteries, but with automation it only takes two or three people to do the same job in much less time.
Employees are welcoming the new machines as they can move from everyday tasks to a variety of opportunities that add value to their career growth.
Even though Covid-19 threw a spanner in the works, GenPlus is determined to keep things moving.
“I am responsible for my employees and their families. My team has been loyal and has remained loyal to us even in difficult times, ”said Ming Chiat.
“You believe in me, so I have to keep growing our company. When we get to a point where we feel stuck, we need to change to find a way to move on. "
Charging his electric dreams
With a strong growth mindset, GenPlus is constantly looking for ways to position itself in order to benefit from growth, as electric vehicles are gaining in importance locally and regionally.
In line with Singapore's goal of phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles instead of electric vehicles by 2040, Ming Chiat announced plans to capitalize on this trend.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has forecast the establishment of 60,000 EV charging points across the island by 2030, up from the original target of 28,000.
“More charging points mean an increased demand for electricity from the grid, which may be too much for a parking space. We come into the picture by providing pre-charged energy storage, similar to a giant power bank that can be used to charge cars instead of drawing power directly from the grid, ”he explained.
The infrastructure of a city's power grid cannot change overnight, so a sharp increase in electricity demand from peak charging times of electric vehicles could destabilize the grid and lead to outages.
The GenPlus energy storage systems in use in Guam / Image source: GenPlus
The advantage of integrating energy storage systems is that it can compensate for power consumption from the main grid by supplying electric vehicle chargers with pre-charged energy that is slowly replenished during peak hours.
Today, battery recycling technology is still in its infancy, but the same challenge remains for this technology company: finding the balance between economy and practicality.
“The demand for second-life batteries has not yet reached a critical mass in our region that would enable us to do this cost-effectively. But we feel like we're already behind if we don't do it today, ”said Ming Chiat.
The GenPlus team is also breaking new ground for business growth in the maritime sector. Of course, fears of change and realignment have been raised as these are sectors where electrification is typically not applied, especially when it comes to cost.
“My team is open-minded and has seen how quickly things change. They realize that there is a lot more to lose in the long run if we don't seize the opportunity for change now, ”Ming Chiat clarified.
GenPlus is currently in discussions with industry representatives to revolutionize how ships and other vessels can reduce emissions by integrating the company's technology. For example, it is planned that ships will hybridize their energy use with energy storage instead of just relying on diesel.
The electrification of these ships will not only reduce emissions, but also improve cost efficiency. For example, while a ship is idling, it can use its battery to supply energy instead of running the engines and using diesel for the low energy requirements in hotel loads such as lighting.
The future of GenPlus is shining brightly as the team is targeting the electrification of additional vehicles. They plan to continue meeting the energy needs and infrastructure for rural cities in neighboring countries and plan to expand beyond Southeast Asia.
To find out how Enterprise Singapore can help your business grow, visit www.enterprisesg.gov.sg/keepgrowing and schedule an appointment with an SME Center Business Advisor.
This article was written in collaboration with Enterprise Singapore.
Highlighted image source: GenPlus