Brandon Ng, head of Hong Kong-based battery energy storage system maker Ampd Energy, has powered up for growth despite global headwinds.
Surging lithium prices and supply chain snarls aren’t keeping Brandon Ng, cofounder and CEO of Hong Kong-based Ampd Energy, from charging ahead with global expansion plans. His company has created an all-electric replacement for diesel generators at construction sites. After starting in Hong Kong, Ampd has recently expanded to Singapore and Australia—and Ng is eyeing Europe as his next market as the building industry starts to clean up its act.
Construction sites count among major polluters and decarbonizing the construction industry is a crucial front in the battle against climate change. Today construction companies are turning to firms such as Ampd to power equipment such as tower cranes and welding machines. “Sustainability is no longer a core agenda for just a fringe group,” says Ng, who earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Imperial College London. “I think now everyone cares about it.”
Ampd, which was founded in 2014 and made the inaugural 100 to Watch list last year, says its products emit up to 85% less carbon dioxide than traditional diesel generators and produce no tailpipe emissions such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. A typical diesel generator at a construction site produces about 100 tonnes of carbon emissions each year, it claims—equivalent to the amount of greenhouse gases produced by about 22 gasoline-powered cars driven continuously over the same period.
The company started out making lithiumion battery-powered backup generators for buildings needing uninterrupted power supply, such as hospitals, data centers and telecom networks. Then, in early 2018, Hong Kong’s Gammon Construction, which had just launched a campaign to reduce carbon intensity—or emissions per unit of energy—by 25% by 2025, approached Ampd to see if its battery technology could be adapted to power construction sites.
After almost two years of tinkering, Ampd created a 7.3-tonne, 2.6-meter-tall gleaming white box packed with 30,000 lithium-ion battery cells. Ng named it Enertainer, a portmanteau of energy and container. “It was unprecedented in construction,” he says. “This was the first time that anyone had tried to use an energy storage system entirely to run the construction site.”
“Sustainability is no longer a core agenda for just a fringe group.”
In October 2019, Gammon Construction—a 50-50 joint venture between Hong Kong conglomerate Jardine Matheson and Balfour Beatty, Britain’s biggest construction company by revenue—became the first company to use the Enertainer. Gammon deployed them to power equipment used to build the nine-story, 108,000-squaremeter, $600 million Advanced Manufacturing Center for government-backed Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks (HKSTP was also an early backer of Ampd). Since then, Ampd’s customer list has grown to include some of the region’s prominent family-led 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’s Sun Hung Kai Properties.
New World Development’s Hip Hing Construction uses Enertainers to “reduce the use of fossil fuels, lower the carbon footprint and optimize the use of energy,” says a spokesperson for the infrastructure unit of New World Development in emailed comments. Entertainers are also helping Sino Group (which is an investor in Ampd), the sister company of Far East Organization, achieve its 2030 sustainability vision set two years ago in support of UN goals. Besides the environmental benefits, Enertainers provide a big data platform for analysis, says deputy chairman Daryl Ng in emailed comments, the eldest son of chairman Robert Ng and founding chairman of the Hong Kong Innovation Foundation (no relation to Brandon Ng). “This is conducive to raising project efficiency as well as the digitalization of construction,” he adds. Other benefits of the units are noise reduction and increased safety, as electric power is quieter than diesel motors and doesn’t require flammable fuel, Ampd claims.
The company announced in May that it deployed its 100th unit—a number that it expects to increase as Ampd pursues expansion. To fund that effort Ampd last year had an undisclosed series A funding round led by London-based venture capital firm 2150 and Australian real estate-focused Taronga Ventures. Ng declines to disclose revenues but says Ampd is profitable on a per-unit basis, meaning it makes a profit on individual sales or leases but isn’t profitable overall due to fixed costs.
Ampd made its first move abroad late last year. In November, Far East Organization installed Enertainers at the building site for One Holland Village in Singapore, managed by local construction giant Woh Hup. In July, the system was deployed by Australia’s Multiplex at The Grove, a luxury mixed-use development in Perth. “We saw Singapore and Australia as two markets in the AsiaPacific that are really driving the sustainability agenda,” says Brandon Ng. “They’re at the forefront of this.”
He’s now eyeing the environmentally conscious European market. He plans to launch in the U.K. later this year before expanding to continental Europe, where competitors such as Swedish engineering group Atlas Copco and Austrian startup Xelectrix Power already have a foothold with similar technologies.
To prepare for this growth, Ng has been busy. Ampd has more than doubled its headcount to 60 over the past 12 months and recruited key executives. Last year, it hired Tara Hobbs, a former director of products at Elon Musk’s SolarCity, as vice president of software, and Charles Cox, who previously served as China and Southeast Asia managing director at Katerra, a once fast-growing construction startup backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, as vice president of hardware and supply chain.
The company announced in May that it deployed its 100th unit—a number that it expects to increase as Ampd pursues expansion.
As it expands, Ng says Ampd is working with partners to manage industrywide challenges. “Our suppliers gave us very early notice of the supply chain disruptions—all the way back in 2020,” he says. “So, we adapted to this new reality by maintaining high inventory levels—obviously higher than we’d like—but that has enabled us to maintain continuity of production and growth.” However, Ampd is still experiencing long lead times, sometimes over a year, for many parts, especially chips.
At the same time, as with other battery companies, Ampd’s margins have come under pressure as strong global demand for electric vehicles drives up the cost of lithium. Prices have risen by more than 120% so far this year and are up roughly 360% in the past 12 months, according to data from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Scant supply, constrained by limited investment in new projects, has helped fuel the lithium price surge.
That’s led Ng to innovate. Ampd’s team of engineers, who account for almost a quarter of its workforce, improved its software so that fewer batteries—up to 40%—are required, while improving performance, he says. “Necessity is the mother of all invention, as the saying goes.”