Hexagon Purus Places Multiple Bets on Electrified Trucking

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

inside of a red truck
Photo by David Shultz

When experts talk about the future of the energy economy, technologies are often described as winners or losers.

“Solar will beat nuclear.”

“Lithium iron phosphate will dominate lithium nickel manganese cobalt.”

“Geothermal is a better bet than tidal.”

Nowhere is this contest more pronounced than in the long-range trucking industry where hydrogen is battling for supremacy against battery electric.


But according to Hexagon Purus there’s room for everyone at the party, at least for now.

The Californian branch of Norwegian parent company Hexagon Composites has recently set up an American branch in Ontario, California, which is independently listed and focusing on zero emission solutions to trucking. It’s early days still, but on a tour of the facility last week I was able to chat with executives about how the future might unfold and how the company’s strategy illuminates both the opportunity and uncertainty surrounding the transition.

The debate around the best way to decarbonize long range trucking has been ongoing for several years now, and two technologies have emerged as the front runners. Earlier this year, I outlined this technological arms race in our newsletter, but a quick recap never hurts.

In one corner there’s the electric truck, which stores energy in a battery and uses that to drive an electric motor.

In the other corner there’s the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), which carries hydrogen onboard and uses a fuel cell to turn the gas into electricity that drives an electric motor.

Fuel cell electric vehicles offer more energy per volume and per weight than today’s best batteries. And because of that, they offer longer ranges, which is a huge deal for long range trucking. Hydrogen tanks can also be quickly refilled or swapped, meaning drivers don’t have to wait for batteries to recharge.

But hydrogen also faces major headwinds. There are currently only 54 hydrogen refueling stations in the United States, and every single one is in California. By contrast, electricity is ubiquitous. The grid–while far from perfect and definitely not ready to support a nation of predominantly EVs–is already installed, and there are nearly 50,000 EV chargers spread across the country. There’s also nowhere near enough green hydrogen to power the nation’s fleet of trucks. But where some might see an obstacle, Hexagon sees opportunity.

engine

Engineers check rev an engine at Hexagon Purus' location in Ontario, California.

Photo by David Shultz

Hexagon Composites, the parent company, got its start making hydrogen storage tanks.

These tanks are similar to the propane tank you use to power a grill or a heater. But hydrogen is a much trickier molecule to store than natural gas or propane: It’s lighter and escapes through smaller holes, meaning the tanks need to be made to a higher standard. It’s also corrosive to metal, meaning Hexagon’s tanks are lined with an inert plastic. FCEVs, if they catch on, represent an enormous opportunity to expand that business.

In addition to the tanks themselves, the company makes racks to transport tanks, and instruments to inspect and certify said tanks. If hydrogen is going to catch on, the United States will need a way to ship the gas all over the country. Hexagon believes their cylinders, transport and storage technologies are perfectly positioned to take on that challenge.

That’s where Purus comes in. Major truck makers like Volvo, Daimler and Freightliner have at least some of their chips invested in fuel cell technologies. Hexagon Purus is working with these industry giants to integrate their hydrogen tanks into the fuel cells on these trucks. If the tech catches on, the trucking giants will probably take over the integration themselves, but Hexagon Purus CEO Morten Holum says that smaller fleets–street sweepers, boom trucks, construction, drayage, etc–will still need the service…and the tanks. Right now, the technology is firmly in the prototyping stage, and Holum estimates that a shift is probably still three to five years out. Hexagon has just 20 FCEV trucks on the road. But each truck boasts up to 800 miles of range—certainly long enough to completely disrupt the diesel truck industry.

Initially, when I toured the Hexagon Purus facility, I couldn’t help but wonder if all the hydrogen technology in development was on track to become obsolete the moment somebody develops a battery that can carry a fully loaded tractor trailer 600 miles. Truckers are only allowed to drive for 8 hours per shift, so even if they averaged a whopping 70 miles per hour, that means a driver can only cover 560 miles in a shift. Tesla’s range figures should always be taken with a grain of salt, but their upcoming Semi platform will reportedly come with either 300 or 500 miles of range (on level ground). The Semi platform is currently in the process of receiving EPA certification, suggesting that deliveries might begin soon. While 500 miles might not translate to quite enough real-world range to entice the longest of long haul truckers, signs seems to suggest the day is coming.

The Californian branch of Norwegian parent company Hexagon Composites has recently set up an American branch in Ontario, CA, which is independently listed and focusing on zero emission solutions to trucking. The Californian branch of Norwegian parent company Hexagon Composites has recently set up an American branch in Ontario, CA, which is independently listed and focusing on zero-emission solutions to trucking. Photo by David Shultz

But in the back corner of Hexagon’s garage, I found the answer. They’re also working on a battery platform. The company is building 220 kWh battery packs with cells sourced from “household name” brands and integrating them into the trucks–up to three at a time. For an operation that, at present, makes its money selling hydrogen cylinders and accessories, it’s quite a hedge. But Holum says the company–at least the Purus arm–is actually quite “tech agnostic.”

“Of course, if you had a battery that was 20% of the weight of today's batteries that you could charge in 15 minutes, then hydrogen would not be a long term truck fuel,” Holum says. But that technology isn’t here yet, and decarbonizing trucking is a task that has to start today. “The problem that we have now is not one solution out-competing the other solution,” he says. “It’s that both solutions are really needed, and there isn’t enough [supply].”

Holum thinks that over the next 10 years there will be room and demand for both technologies in the trucking sector, with battery electric vehicles taking up jobs with shorter duty cycles–things like drayage and last mile delivery–while FCEVs handle the long range jobs with the heaviest loads.

Beyond that, batteries may improve to the point where they win the market, but Holum also points out that FCEVs still use batteries and so they also benefit from improvements in the tech. Hydrogen itself can also get better. Hexagon is experimenting with storing the molecule as a liquid instead of a gas. While this requires even higher pressures, it would allow dramatically more energy to be packed into the same volume.

After ten years, it’s anyone’s guess how the technologies will evolve, says Holum, but with irons in so many different fires, Hexagon is trying to position itself for whatever the future may hold.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Cadence

This Year’s Techstars’ Demo Day Included Robot Bartenders and Towable Rockets

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

This Year’s Techstars’ Demo Day Included Robot Bartenders and Towable Rockets
Andria Moore

On Wednesday, Techstars’ fall 2022 class gathered in Downtown Los Angeles to pitch their products to potential investors in hopes of securing their next big funding round. dot.LA co-sponsored the demo day presentation alongside Venice-based space news website Payload.

Managing director Matt Kozlov explained that unlike previous years, this year Techstars combined two cohorts, merging its space accelerator program and Los Angeles program into one demo day. The result was a comprehensive pitch day where investors, founders and press could hear from 12 creative and intriguing companies working across a variety of industries.

What’s new in space startups

On the space side, two local firms were introduced, including Fenix Space, a San Bernardino startup that got off the ground in 2017 and is looking to wrestle control of the commercial air launch market away from local rival Virgin Orbit.

Fenix Space has a different model of air launching rockets than Virgin; instead of strapping the rockets to a large plane like Virgin does, it plans to tow them through the air. During the Techstars demo day Fenix CEO Jason Lee told Payload co-founder Ari Lewis that Fenix conducted one sub-orbital test flight last year, and is working on making a second craft that will be tested at New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range by second quarter of next year.

During his pitch Lee said, he sees a wide variety of tow launch applications including terrestrial logistics (think an alternative to ground shipping for e-commerce, as one example) but noted, “we're starting with space because corporations and governments looking to put assets into space are relying on ground launch operations from only five orbital space points in the United States… . As a result, the wait time to launch is up to two years, customers are subject to fixed schedules, are being delivered to limited orbital destinations, and are often delayed weeks or even months.”

Lee said Fenix’s crafts can carry 75 times more payload per launch and can launch payloads to orbit 1000 times faster than its competitors. The company has raised $9 million in funding over five years, said Lee and has memorandums of understanding with “major commercial customers” that account for at least $32 million in potential revenue. He also noted Fenix has existing partnerships with the Air Force Research Lab and commercial space operations support agreement with Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Fenix also has a Space Act Agreement with NASA to develop its tow-glider launch platform and an exclusive license agreement with the agency.

man explaining space tech Fenix Space CEO Jason Lee. Photo: Fenix/Techstars LA

In Orbit Aerospace CEO Ryan Elliot was clearly passionate about the company’s mission to make manufacturing in space as easy as possible. “Today, the only way to manufacture in space and recover products back on Earth is through the International Space Station,” Elliot said. Elliot is betting that In Orbit can help reduce the high wait times and correspondingly spiking costs of space manufacturing by helping customers set up their own space factories.

All of which is a tall order, but not as far-fetched as it might seem. In Orbit developed a custom orbital satellite it calls the Haven Shepherd to launch customers’ cargo to space for manufacturing. Once the mini-factory is operational, In Orbit’s second module, a capsule called the Haven Retriever, will bring raw materials to the factory and swap that payload for the new, finished product to return it back to earth.

Elliot also noted the company is the only one trying to tackle the challenge of building a permanent orbital station that can interface with Earth, and has some $180 million in potential contracts in the pipeline. Adding that In Orbital has a Space Act Agreement with NASA and is planning a test mission as soon as 2024.

Apps focused on food and drink

One overarching theme of this year’s Techstars LA cohort was a focus on the food and beverage industries, as well as the intersection those industries have with the healthcare market.

Rotender was one of the splashier startups in this Techstars cohort, because, well, who doesn’t think the phrase “robot bartender” sounds cool. Sure, this robot won’t listen to you gripe about your partner during happy hour, but it will pour you a G&T in under 30 seconds. At least, that’s the gist pitched by CEO Ben Winston.

Rotender could work a large private event, but Winston said the company’s focused on getting into sports stadiums and entertainment venues. Capitalizing on the one thing all fans hate – long lines for concessions – Rotender is aiming to convince venues that spending $35,000 annually on a robot to pour drinks is worth the spend. “One Rotender unit operating 18 or more hours a week will earn a venue over $700,000 a year in drink credit,” Winston said, adding that it could also save a venue over 175,000 annually in spillage fees.

On the business-to-business side, Techstars-backed app Bevz is trying to “save your local convenience store,” as CEO Jason Vego put it. Bevz is basically an order management system for bodegas that helps them avoid running out of top-selling products. The app syncs with the store’s custom point of sale system and sends users notifications to purchase more products before it runs out. It also consolidates input from various delivery apps to give the store a clear picture of what is sold and how frequently.

“These stores are constantly running out of products that their customers want to buy, leading to $50 billion in lost revenue every year,” Vego said. “Most stores don't have any technology… this [platform] is a game-changer.

powerpoint explaining growth in company Bevz CEO Jason Vego pitches his app for convenience stores. Photo: Bevz/Techstars LA

Startups targeting mental and physical wellness

While a number of local startups backed by TechStars are looking to innovate in the food and beverage market, two in particular were focused on fitness coaching.

Founded by Liz Dickinson in 2020, San Diego-based wellness app Relish Life is an app-based clinic that connects people with clinicians for medication-assisted weight loss therapy supplemented by mental health treatment. Dickinson said during her pitch that Relish participants reported “11% body weight lost by six months compared to only 5% in 12 months, twice the weight in half the time of our competitor and we've clinically validated that the weight stays off,” Dickinson said. “Anything that stress triggers, we can treat,” she added, noting the platform could be used to help modify other unhealthy behaviors like smoking or even possibly addiction.

Another wellness-focused app pitching at the demo day was Liberate, a Brentwood-based coaching app focused on mental fitness. CEO Olivia Bowser said during her pitch that she quit her “dream job” six years ago after quickly burning out. The experience prompted her to found Liberate, which companies can choose as a benefit for their workers.

The platform works by connecting people with counselors and guided stress management and wellness exercises to complete throughout the day. There’s also a Slack channel for team-wide guided wellness exercises and morale boosting. “At less than two years old, we've serviced hundreds of companies through monthly and annual contracts… [and] helped nearly 5,000 employees feel happier and more productive at work,” Bowser said.

Derek Jeter’s Arena Club Knocked a $10M Funding Round Right Out of the Park

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

sports trading cards
Arena Club /Andria Moore

Sports trading card platform Arena Club has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

Co-founded by CEO Brian Lee and Hall of Fame Yankees player Derek Jeter, Arena Club launched its digital showroom in September. Through the platform, sports fans can buy, sell, trade and display their card collections. Using computer vision and machine learning, Arena Club allows fans to grade and authenticate their cards, which can be stored in the company’s vault or delivered in protective “slabs.” Arena Club intends to use the new cash to expand these functions and scale its operations.

The new funding brings Arena Club’s total amount raised to $20 million. M13, defy.vc, Lightspeed Ventures, Elysian Park Ventures and BAM Ventures contributed to the round.

“Our team is thankful for the group of investors—led by M13, who see the bright future of the trading card hobby and our platform,” Lee said in a statement. “I have long admired M13 and the value they bring to early-stage startups.”

M13’s co-founder Courtney Reum, who formed the early-stage consumer technology venture firm in 2016 alongside his brother Carter Reum, will join Arena Club’s board. Reum has been eyeing the trading card space since 2020 when he began investing in what was once just a childhood hobby.

The sports trading card market surged in 2020 as fans turned to the hobby after the pandemic brought live events to a standstill. Since then, prices have come down, though demand remains high. And investors are still betting on trading card companies, with companies like Collectors bringing in $100 million earlier this year. Fanatics, which sells athletic collectibles and trading cards, reached a $31 billion valuation after raising $700 million earlier this week. On the blockchain, Tom Brady’s NFT company Autograph lets athletes sell digital collectibles directly to fans.

As for Arena Club, the company is looking to cement itself as a digital card show.

“Providing users with a digital card show allows us to use our first-class technology to give collectors from all over the world the luxury of being able to get the full trading card show experience at their fingertips,” Jeter said in a statement.

Hosts Who Rent From “Airbnb-Friendly” LA Apartments May Not Make a Profit

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to amrita@dot.la or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
LA house

L.A.’s lax enforcement of Airbnbs has led to an surge of illegal short-term rentals — even four years after the city passed a regulation to crack down on such practices. But what if hosts lived in a building that welcomed Airbnb guests and short-term rentals?

That’s the idea behind Airbnb’s new push to expand short-term rental offerings. The company is partnering with a number of corporate landlords that agreed to offer “Airbnb-friendly” apartment buildings, reported The Wall Street Journal last week. According to the report, the new service will feature more than 175 buildings managed by Equity Residential, Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC and 10 other companies that have agreed to clear more than 175 properties nationwide for short-term rentals.

But prospective hosts in Los Angeles who decide to rent apartments from Airbnb’s list of more than a dozen “friendly” buildings in the city likely won’t earn enough to break even due to a combination of high rents, taxes and city restrictions on short-term rentals. Rents on one-bedroom apartments in most of the partnered buildings listed soared well over $3,000 a month. Only a few studios were available under the $2,000 price range. If a host were to rent a one bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of $2,635 (which amounts to $31,656 annually), they would have to charge well over the $194 average price per night for Los Angeles (which amounts to $23,280 per year) according to analytics platform AllTheRooms.

Either way, residents who rent one of these Airbnb friendly apartments still have to apply for a permit through the City of Los Angeles in order to host on Airbnb.

“[..Airbnb-friendly buildings] seems like a good initiative. However, from a quick look, it seems that given the rent, Airbnb revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover all expenses if the host follows the city’s policy,” says Davide Proserpio, assistant professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.

In addition, since L.A.’s 120-day cap on short-term rentals still applies to the buildings on Airbnb’s listing platform, that greatly limits the number of longer-term guests a resident can host. Not to mention, some of the buildings that Airbnb lists have even shorter limits – The Milano Lofts in DTLA for example only allows residents to host 90 nights a year.

Airbnb’s calculations of host earnings may be greatly misleading as well, given that the estimate doesn’t include host expenses, taxes, cleaning fees or individual building restrictions. For example, Airbnb estimates that a resident of a $3,699 one bedroom apartment at the Vinz in Hollywood that hosts 7 nights a month can expect $1,108 a month in revenue if they host year-round. But the Vinz only allows hosts to rent 90 days a year, which greatly limits the potential for subletters and a consistent income stream.

Keep in mind too that since the apartment will have to serve as the host’s “primary residence”, hosts will have to live there six months out of the year. All of which is to say, it’s unclear how renting an apartment in an “Airbnb-friendly” building makes hosting easier — especially in a city where illegal short-term rentals already seem to be the norm.

https://twitter.com/askhalid
RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
LA TECH JOBS
interchangeLA
Trending