Mujeeb Ijaz is founder and chief executive officer of Our Next Energy (ONE), a developer and ultimately manufacturer of powerful, durable, and sustainable battery packs for vehicles and grid storage. With headquarters in Novi, MI, outside Detroit, the ONE Circle gigafactory—a $1.6 billion investment—is under construction in Van Buren Township, MI, and is slated to achieve full production in 2024.
The ribbon-cutting event for ONE Circle was in October, 2022—a big year for the young company; In January, the company shared the third-party verified results of a test of its Gemini Dual-Chemistry battery design; the battery was put into a modified Tesla Model S and driven a record-breaking 752 miles without a charge.
And last summer, the company announced a partnership with Piston Automotive to manufacture ONE’s Aries battery at Piston’s Van Buren facility and signed an agreement with BMW Group to incorporate Gemini battery technology into the BMW iX all-electric Sports Activity Vehicle.
This year, ONE has expanded into renewable-energy storage with Aries Grid, a lithium iron phosphate (LFP) utility-scale battery system that can serve as long-duration energy storage. Aries Grid will be built at the ONE Circle gigafactory. That was in February: By March, the ground was broken in West Virginia for a solar-energy microgrid-powered business center being developed by BHE Renewables, a Berkshire Hathaway Energy business, slated to use Aries Grid for its energy storage.
All of which has kept founder and CEO Ijaz a busy man. However, this Crain's Detroit Business 2022 Newsmaker of the Year has made time to talk to Battery Technology. The following are his thoughts on the battery business and where ONE, and indeed the world is headed.
What drove you to the battery business and what keeps you going?
Ijaz: As a society, we should have ways to make energy from many sources: hydro, solar, geothermal, wind—sources more sustainable now than where we’ve been. Batteries become the common equalizer, with the ability to harness, store, and release these many different sources for producing electricity.
To take an analogy from 150 years ago, it was the oil tanker that made oil valuable. Oil was underground. The oil tanker was the means for moving energy around. This next economy of energy requires a mechanism to harness and release energy. Our battery technology can be a part of that.
Sounds like ONE should also stand for Our Next Economy.
Ijaz: Energy is the economy. Gross domestic product—GDP—is an important measure of success of every country in the world. You can correlate GDP with access to energy. If you don’t have energy, you don’t have that which can make industrial productivity possible, everything from education to people’s mobility. People cannot grow and participate in the middle class without access to energy.
If we look ahead to the kind of market we’re trying to serve and disrupt, that market has in it the needs by which battery energy-storage technology creates wider penetration and more suitable products.
As an example, an average 300-mile-range electric vehicle today, analysts say, driven at highway speeds of 80 miles per hour on a 0o F day loses half its range. We made it our first premise that we had to double battery energy density to approach the real electric vehicle market—driving trucks and SUVs, towing trailers and boats, operating in the real world.
Even bigger markets await—Class A long-haul trucking is a market set for disruption. We’re focused on the next level of requirements that will make that market more viable.
Then there’s maritime—container shipping, ferries, etc.—and vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) in aerospace. In our idea of battery technology evolution, there’s a platform where battery technology can penetrate an early market. Then, as you advance the technology, you can get to a bigger market—and eventually, you’ll be serving the full market.
Think of everything that’s burning fossil fuels. Does each one transition to an electrified product? What do these products need? We’re on a quest to not simply reach the first market, but the second, third, and fourth markets. We want to go past what people think of as possible and go beyond that. The best ideas are born of solving a problem no one thought was solvable because no one is working on it.
Regarding markets you’re trying to serve and disrupt: How much of each?
Ijaz: If we go after a market everyone is already playing in, we’re another startup without enough manufacturing presence, without enough of a track record. If we go after a disruptive market where no one else is playing and we present a unique technology, we can merge that into manufacturing. The strength of that story is we start offering what no one else does. I want to solve a problem that’s not yet been defined with a product that anticipates what’s coming.
What kind of world are you and ONE helping create as a result?
Ijaz: We’re fortunate to have a front-row seat to a rapidly changing set of ideas around a new economy based on electrification. I think it will define this century. Humankind’s endeavor to industrialize spanned about a 40-year period. From about 1880 to 1920, businesses were birthed and grew and changed the landscape of this country and effectively the world.
What we’re seeing now probably started around 2000. We saw computing and computers becoming ever more important in everything we did. My graduating class in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech in 1990 was the first to require students to own and use a PC. In 1990, it was a mandate; by 2000, it was an assumption.
We’re at a new inflection point with energy. Buildings, homes, cars, trucks, and other forms of transportation moving to electric is going to knit a new system together. Buildings, for example, are not just going to provide energy to cars (plugging in at work). The aggregated cars together will provide energy to buildings and even be part of employee compensation for bringing energy to work.
This is an exciting future, and if we accept the year 2000 as the starting point for this new 40-year period of industrialization, we’re about halfway through. We have a lot of work to do to imagine the rest of it.
Click through for a look inside ONE’s headquarters, battery-prototype lab and production line, and more.