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Posted on May 23, 2012 by  & 

Hybrid bus drive systems in China move Maxwell forward

Supercapacitor leader Maxwell Technologies recorded total revenue of $39.2 million for the first quarter ended March 31, 2012. - a up 11% from the same period a year ago. Growth was driven not only by ultracapacitor sales of $22 million, which is up 3% from Q1 '11, but also by unusually strong sales of microelectronics and high-voltage capacitor products, which came in at $17.2 million - up 24% from last year's first quarter.
This growth, along with continuing cost and efficiency improvements, enabled the company to show a net profit of about $500,000 for the quarter. On a non-GAAP basis, net profit for Q1 was $1.8 million.
The company said key ultracapacitor markets, wind turbine deployments in China and elsewhere continue to be well below levels seen in previous years, so wind-related ultracapacitor sales were lower than a year ago. However sales in the hybrid bus drive systems in China continue to be steady, and contributions from a stop-start idle elimination system for autos in Europe and various backup power applications enabled the company to achieve sustainable year over year growth.
Energy storage systems for recuperative breaking and torque assist in fuel efficient, low emission hybrid electric transit buses for China continued to be the single largest ultracapacitor sales driver in Q1.
Last fall Maxwell announced a new supply agreement with Yutong, China's largest bus producer. They continue to supply ultracapacitor products to several other bus OEMs and hybrid drive system integrators. There are more than 5,000 hybrid buses powered by Maxwell ultracapacitors in daily service around the world: they are across the lithium-ion battery to provide surges of power when needed and to protect the battery from fast external charging and current surges from regenerative braking .
The current lull was predicted by a consulting company appointed by Maxwell last year to assess business conditions. They say that all of the 25 Chinese cities that are eligible for government subsidies for purchases of hybrid and electric transit vehicles are running behind their new energy vehicle deployment schedules. So bus OEMs and drive system integrators continue to gear up to deliver more hybrid vehicles.
In Europe, where reducing CO2 emissions is the focus of regulatory policy, hybrid bus, electric rail, and other heavy vehicle OEMs and drive train integrators continue to incorporate Maxwell ultracapacitors in their designs. But procurements that require government funding have slowed, as a result of economic difficulties in several European countries.
Maxwell announced in January, Bombardier Transportation, a leading producer of rail vehicles and rail transportation equipment, systems, and services, designed Maxwell ultracapacitors into its energy store braking energy recuperation system. These are stationary energy storage units that capture and store energy that otherwise would be wasted in the conventional friction-based braking system.
A network of these units can enable rail system operators to reduce grid power consumption by 20-30%. They also serve as a backup energy source to provide enough power to get trains to the next station in the event of a power outage. Bombardier and other rail vehicle OEMs also produce on-vehicle systems that use ultracapacitors for energy storage.
Maxwell's automotive program with Continental AG for PSA's Peugeot and Citroen diesel cars in Europe is now in its second year of series production. However recent reports suggest car sales in Europe are lagging, so they are seeing a bit of a slowdown. The good news is that PSA's micro hybrid stop-start idle elimination and voltage stabilization system, which is now in more than 300,000 cars, has been rated superior to the battery-based systems being sold by other auto makers.
European Union's stringent CO2 emission reduction standards will require increasing deployment of this and other hybridization technologies going forward. All hybrid cars incorporate a stop-start idle elimination function that turns off the internal combustion engine as the car slows and then restarts the engine when the driver releases the brake.
Batteries have been the incumbent energy source for stop-start, but constant restarting and stop and go traffic wears out batteries quickly. Heavy cycling and cold weather also affect batteries' ability to recover fast enough to provide power for repetitive restarting, so stop-start systems constantly monitor the battery to determine if it has sufficient power for the next restart. If not, the system disables itself until the battery recharges from the alternator, so no fuel is saved and no emission reductions are achieved until the battery recovers.
PSA's ultracap-powered stop-start system restarts every time in all conditions in about 400 milliseconds and reliably reduces fuel consumption and emissions by up to 15% in urban driving. The current European emissions standard equates to about 42 miles per gallon for gasoline-powered cars, so U.S. automakers are anticipating competitive pressure from more efficient imports.
They've also been announcing their own stop-start launch plans. Maxwell and Continental continue to call on the Detroit automakers, explaining and demonstrating how ultracapacitors make micro hybrid cars more reliable, more fuel-efficient, and more environmentally friendly.
With more than 16 million new cars being produced by automakers around the world each year, any amount of ultracapacitor content per car, multiplied by any reasonable fraction of the vehicles produced, would create a very sizable market opportunity in the years ahead.
Maxwell have development activity underway with several automakers and tier one suppliers. The success of the PSA program has validated their products and is stimulating interest and generating requests for price quotes, but it's a slow process and the industry is secretive, so they still can't predict when another designed-in announcement might come.
Also impacting their revenue is the delayed timing of programs in their new market sales efforts due to the general economic state of the European Union and the rest of the world. That said, a number of other applications have begun driving volumes that have helped them to maintain steady ultracapacitor sales growth, despite the global economic situation.
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