As already published in 3dpbm’s AM Sustainably eBook, earlier this year, the Founder and CEO of Automobili Estrema, Gianfranco Pizzuto, has been working in the manufacturing industry since 1983. In 1989, he co-founded the FAE Group, a leading manufacturer of machinery for agriculture, forestry, and construction. In 2007, he began his adventure in the EV business as Fisker Automotive’s first investor and first European distributor. Fisker Automotive’s Karma – a luxury plug-in hybrid EV – was one of the first ever projects to believe in electric propulsion. Fifteen years later, the market is ripe for an entirely new project. Conceptually born during the COVID pandemic, Automobili Estrema’s Fulminea is a $2 million electric hypercar featuring state-of-the-art technology, including Sakuu’s 3D printed solid-state batteries.
Fulminea is an Italian term that means “lightning fast”. It recalls the lightning bolt, like the one proudly bearing the colors of the Italian flag embedded in the Estrema logo. The lightning bolt is also a symbol for electric power and high voltage, representing the team’s efforts to deliver the most powerful and lightest (1,500 kg, 3,307 lbs) electric-powered supercar. 3D printing is playing a role in its development and could also play a role in the production of some functional parts. But the real game changer could come from the partnership with Sakuu, which aims to integrate the company’s Swift Print solid-state batteries and further reduce the vehicle’s weight by optimizing space.
3D printing for financial sustainability
“As EV pioneers we have always been very mindful of environmental concerns and for this, we always use plant-based materials in all our 3D printing activities, both for photopolymers and thermoplastics,” Pizzuto told 3dpbm. “These materials cannot be used on final parts for all matters related to durability and regulatory approvals, but we do use them on all conceptual models and prototypes that do not need to undergo functional tests and endure structural stress. For everything else we use a lot of carbon fiber-based materials.”
One element that Pizzuto highlights is that this project is currently a one-off that cannot leverage previously-developed parts. This is both a good thing, in terms of creative freedom, and a challenge in terms of the economic sustainability of the project. “When we create our prototypes we use everything we can find off the shelf and resort to 3D printing only for parts that are not available anywhere else,” Pizzuto explained. “For example, if we can get standard push-rods we are not going to develop our own. Same for the rims, where the magnesium rims from OZ are perfectly suited for what we are looking to achieve.”
On the other hand, the fact that the Fulminea project began on a blank sheet gives its creators plenty of freedom. “The idea came to me during the COVID lockdown when we all had too much time on our hands,” Pizzuto explained. “Today we are a team of 14 and most of us are doing this out of passion. Although we are an international team, we all share a passion for electric mobility and the DNA of Italian design, which is a good thing because Italy has been trailing in EV adoption and we want to help convey that electric vehicles are not just better for the environment but also superior in terms of performance.”
A solid concept
The Fulminea team, which began as “Team Hypercar”, has completed the exterior, interior, and power train. They are finalizing the first functional prototype and the ability to integrate 3D printed batteries could help the team push their innovative ideas even further.
The Kavian printing technology developed by Sakuu Corporation, a Californian startup that recently raised $62 million for its vision of creating automated factories for 3D printing batteries, promises to dramatically change the entire battery industry with its Swift Print solid-state battery cells, which could provide superior performance, safety, and customizability for electric vehicles and mass-market energy storage applications.
To understand how Fulminea will benefit from Sakuu’s technology, it is also important to understand how EV batteries work today. “Batteries present a major challenge but the fact that we are working on a $2 million hypercar enables us to explore all the options. In the world of EVs, the battery gives you energy (for the range) and power (for the performance),” Pizzuto explained. “So a more powerful battery ensures better performance just like a thermal engine can have 4, 8, or 12 cylinders. Today, the three main formats are cylindrical, prismatic, and pouch based. Tesla, for example, uses cylindrical batteries, which are packed inside the modules that make up the battery pack.”
Now, if you have a battery with a 100 kWh of energy capacity and you need to draw power up to a total of 1.5 MW on 4 electric motors – as in the Fulminea – you need to generate 15 C in terms of power capability for the few seconds necessary during acceleration. This amounts to about 2000 hp and you only need it for a very short period of time. “To reach these limits in the solid-state battery, what we need is a supercapacitor that lets us handle huge quantities of power for very short bursts. After this, the energy is handled by the main battery for cruising speed requirements,” Pizzuto explained.
“This kind of technology, which is very similar to the KERS in Formula 1, is very expensive and can run over $300,000, which alone is the cost of a supercar,” he continued. “It is also a technology that will be increasingly adopted as it allows to dramatically reduce the size of the battery pack and increase the battery lifetime by absorbing most of the peak stresses. This means that a main battery can last over 500,000 Km, or up to 5,000 recharge cycles, and this is also very important for environmental concerns.”
By using solid-state batteries, these benefits are further augmented as the batteries are built using less material, they last longer and can be fully recycled. In addition, they do away with the liquid electrolyte, which comes mostly from fossil sources. The added benefit of Sakuu’s technology is that they will 3D print their batteries in the desired shape.
Sakuu’s Kavian printers implement a hybrid technology that combines material extrusion and material jetting to produce the battery with all the different chemical components in one run. In the case of Fulminea, the battery is located behind the seats and has to be installed from underneath the vehicle. When using traditional battery packs many spaces are left empty. This makes Fulminea the best possible “laboratory on wheels” for the future of 3D printed solid-state batteries and also an ideal candidate to prove the capabilities of Sakuu’s own technological approach.
Creating the Fulminea project from scratch has given Pizzuto and his team the freedom to explore all options but it also means that they need to be very careful about the economic sustainability of this project. Having learned from the previous Fisker Automotive experience, Pizzuto is not looking to relinquish control to external investors so the project’s funding comes mainly from pre-orders. “The first one, from a client in Switzerland, has just come in,” Pizzuto told us, “We realize this technology is destined to high net-worth individuals, but they are the ones that need to drive innovation so that eventually it can benefit everyone.”