Brandon Ng, head of Hong Kong-based battery storage system maker Ampd Energy, has braced for growth despite global headwinds.
Spushing lithium prices and supply chain issues aren’t stopping Brandon Ng, co-founder and CEO of Hong Kong-based Ampd Energy, from moving ahead with his global expansion plans. His company has created an all-electric replacement for diesel generators on construction sites. After launching in Hong Kong, Ampd has recently expanded into Singapore and Australia – and Ng is eyeing Europe as its next market as the construction industry begins to clean up.
Construction sites are among the biggest polluters and decarbonising the construction industry is a crucial front in the fight against climate change. Today, contractors turn to companies like Ampd to power equipment like tower cranes and welding machines. “Sustainability is no longer a core agenda for a marginalized group,” says Ng, who earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Imperial College London. “I think everyone cares now.”
Ampd, which was founded in 2014 and made the first 100 to watch list last year, claims its products emit up to 85% less carbon dioxide than traditional diesel generator sets and produce no tailpipe emissions such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. A typical diesel generator set on a construction site emits around 100 tons of CO2 each year – equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gases produced by around 22 petrol-powered cars driven non-stop over the same period.
The company began manufacturing lithium-ion battery-powered backup generators for buildings that require uninterruptible power supply, such as B. hospitals, data centers and telecommunications networks. Then, in early 2018, Hong Kong-based Gammon Construction, which had just launched a campaign to reduce carbon intensity — or emissions per unit of energy — by 25% by 2025, turned to Ampd to see if its battery technology could power construction sites could be adjusted.
After almost two years of tinkering, Ampd created a 7.3-ton, 2.6-meter-tall, glossy white box filled with 30,000 lithium-ion battery cells. Ng called it the Enertainer, a portmanteau of energy and container. “It was unprecedented in construction,” he says. “This was the first time anyone tried to fully utilize an energy storage system to run the construction site.”
“Sustainability is no longer just a core agenda of a fringe group.”
In October 2019, Gammon Construction – a 50:50 joint venture between Hong Kong conglomerate Jardine Matheson and Balfour Beatty, Britain’s largest construction company by revenue – became the first company to use the Enertainer. Gammon used them to power equipment used to build the nine-story, 108,000-square-foot, $600 million Advanced Manufacturing Center for the government-backed Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks (HKSTP was also an early backer of ampd). Since then, Ampd’s client list has grown to include some of the region’s leading family-run real estate companies: brothers Robert and Philip Ng’s Far East Organization, Lee Shau Kee’s Henderson Land, Henry Cheng’s New World Development, Vincent Lo’s Socam and the Kwok family properties by Sun Hung Kai.
New World Development’s Hip Hing Construction uses Enertainer to “reduce fossil fuel use, reduce carbon footprint and optimize energy use,” a spokesman for New World Development’s infrastructure unit says in comments via email. Entertainers are also helping Sino Group (which is an investor in Ampd), the Far East Organization’s sister company, to achieve their 2030 sustainability vision set two years ago in support of the UN goals. In addition to the environmental benefits, Enertainers provide a big data platform for analysis, says Vice Chair Daryl Ng in emailed comments, eldest son of Chair Robert Ng and founding chair of the Hong Kong Innovation Foundation (no relation to Brandon Ng). “This serves to increase project efficiency and digitize construction,” he adds. Other benefits of the units include noise reduction and increased safety, since electric power is quieter than diesel engines and doesn’t require combustible fuel, Ampd claims.
The company announced in May that it had installed its 100th unit — a number it expects to increase as Ampd expands. To fund this effort, Ampd last year had an undisclosed Series A funding round led by London-based venture capital firm 2150 and Australian real estate firm Taronga Ventures. Ng declines to disclose revenue, but says Ampd is profitable per unit, meaning it makes a profit from individual sales or rentals, but isn’t profitable overall because of fixed costs.
Late last year, Ampd took its first step abroad. In November, Far East Organization installed Enertainer at the One Holland Village construction site in Singapore, managed by local construction giant Woh Hup. In July, the system was deployed by Australian company Multiplex at The Grove, a luxury mixed-use development in Perth. “We saw Singapore and Australia as two markets in Asia Pacific that are really driving the sustainability agenda,” says Brandon Ng. “They are at the forefront of this.”
He now has the environmentally conscious European market in mind. It plans to launch in the UK later this year, before expanding into continental Europe, where competitors such as Swedish engineering group Atlas Copco and Austrian startup Xelectrix Power have already established themselves with similar technologies.
To prepare for this growth, Ng has been busy. Ampd has more than doubled its headcount to 60 in the last 12 months and hired key executives. Last year it hired Tara Hobbs, a former product director at Elon Musk’s SolarCity, as vice president of software, and Charles Cox, who previously served as China and Southeast Asia general manager at Katerra, a once fast-growing construction startup backed by joins SoftBank’s Vision Fund as vice president of hardware and supply chain.
The company announced in May that it had installed its 100th unit — a number it expects to increase as Ampd expands.
According to Ng, as it expands, Ampd is working with partners to address industry-wide challenges. “Our suppliers informed us about the disruptions to the supply chain very early on – back in 2020,” he says. “So we’ve adapted to this new reality by maintaining high levels of inventory – obviously higher than we’d like – but that has allowed us to maintain continuity of production and growth.” However, for many parts, particularly chips, Ampd has still long lead times, sometimes over a year.
At the same time, like other battery companies, Ampd’s margins have come under pressure as strong global demand for electric vehicles drives up lithium costs. Prices are up more than 120% so far this year and up about 360% over the last 12 months, according to data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Tight supply, constrained by limited investment in new projects, has helped fuel the lithium price surge.
This is what made Ng innovate. Ampd’s engineering team, which makes up nearly a quarter of the workforce, has improved its software to use fewer batteries — up to 40% — while improving performance, he says. “Necessity is the mother of all inventions, as the saying goes.”