kraftwerk is back

Handheld charger still in the works

Sascha Kühn showing one of the cells he is developing
© kraftwerk

A plague of trademark disputes and court cases took eZelleron and its kraftwerk product virtually off the grid for five long years. Then, last October, kraftwerk TUBES chief executive Sascha Kühn informed H2-international that the business is coming out of “stealth mode” to demonstrate the fruits of quiet progress.

HOW

To recap: In 2000, Kühn began researching and developing small, tubular-shaped solid oxide fuel cells made of nano-coated metal. In 2008, in Dresden, Germany, he founded eZelleron and in 2015, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign via US firm eZelleron Inc., quickly raising USD 1.5 million. Shortly thereafter, German music group Kraftwerk filed a lawsuit with Hamburg’s district court, claiming the eZelleron charger’s name constituted trademark infringement. Even though the case was dismissed, it caused a notable delay, threatening the company’s future and prompting German eZelleron to file for bankruptcy protection a few months later (see H2-international, July 2015).

During bankruptcy proceedings, US-based kraftwerk ASSETS acquired the now-defunct company’s IP, while fixed assets, materials, cells, design drafts and software went to kraftwerk TUBES in Germany. Both are wholly owned subsidiaries of kraftwerk Inc., a holding company established by Kühn and Martin Pentenrieder in Silicon Valley in 2016 as court proceedings began (see H2-international, August 2016).

The German firm’s bankruptcy did not affect eZelleron Inc., which Kühn said will be “bought by an Asian-based consortium that aims to market the handheld charger over the next years.” Kühn is chief executive of all four kraftwerk Group subsidiaries as well as chairman of the holding itself. He said kraftwerk Inc. employs more than 50 people in the global fuel cell industry and had “revenues over USD 3 million and more than USD 1 million in profit” in 2019. It is still unclear what happened to the money the US business transferred to the German bankruptcy administrator.

When H2-international questioned Kühn about the funds, he replied: “The crowdfunding campaign did not originate with eZelleron in Germany. The entire campaign, from start to finish, was handled by eZelleron in the United States. Our German firm didn’t survive primarily due to the Kraftwerk lawsuit. Our investors got nervous and jumped ship. No one knew if we would have to pay fines in the millions.” He also remarked that crowdfunding did not constitute debt but a “donation to support a cause.” Then, seemingly as an act of goodwill and recompense for past disappointments, he voiced his hopes that eZelleron would soon deliver the chargers, even if the company was not legally required to do so.

As early as 2018, Kühn stated he would concentrate on developing just the cells, called tubes, aiming to deliver products to prospective partners for integration into their own devices. It is the reason, Kühn said, why he established kraftwerk TUBES as a licensing partner (see H2-international, January 2019). Otherwise, the US firm had nothing to do with the Dresden-based business. “We are merely a supplier,” said Kühn.

The cells’ potential application areas have not changed, namely small, portable electronic devices, such as cell phones, and automotive and aerospace equipment. In 2018, reports on the technology mentioned names such as Nissan’s luxury brand Infiniti and drone manufacturer Sky-Watch. According to Kühn, his company was focused on marketing its products in China at the time.

In November 2018, kraftwerk began putting up manufacturing facilities southwest of Dresden. In the meantime, Kühn said, the factory is ready for small-volume component production. The company’s first commercial product is a demonstrator for educational purposes. It has one individual cell and takes only a second to be charged using LPG.

… Read more in the latest H2-International e-Journal, Feb. 2021

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