Auckland startup ZeroJet says funds from a Series A capital raise will be used for mass marketing and then commercialisation of its jet propulsion system designed to replace petrol-powered outboard motors on small boats and tenders.
The firm's 40kg jet system, powered by a 48-volt lithium-ion battery, delivers equivalent power to a 20 horsepower, petrol-powered four-stroke outboard motor, said chief executive and co-founder Bex Rempel.
ZeroJet's system, which it pitches as the first waterjet system designed for an electric engine, will cost around $24,000, or roughly twice the price of an equivalent outboard.
But Rempel says it will have lower running costs, and recharging costs will be a fraction of petrol bills for a four-stroke.
ZeroJet is also much better for the environment, he says.
That theory (also touted by Crown agency Callaghan Innovation - which provided financial backing under its Project Grant scheme) is based on data that shows running one five-horsepower petrol-powered outboard for an hour produces pollution equivalent to 38 new cars running for the same period.
The ZeroJet has zero emissions and its propeller-free system is also quiet and shallow water-friendly, the company says.
ZeroJet's battery takes 90 minutes for an 80 per cent charge. The battery, which lasts between one and 10 hours - depending on speed and conditions - can be removed for charging, or you can swap in a spare, which will cost around $12,000.
That's in the same orbit as an electric car, where the battery usually accounts for around a third the cost of the vehicle.
Rempel says a pilot production run of 15 ZeroJet systems this year sold out with tenders powered by the system sold to customers in NZ, the Bahamas, Finland, Singapore and Fiji.
Bay of Islands boat builder Offshore Cruising Tenders has been an early partner.
The CEO says ZeroJet has also completed proof-of-concept work with three international boat builders. It expects to do business with all of them. One anticipates they will order 1000 ZeroJet systems over their first year of partnership.
About 850,000 outboard motors are sold each year. ZeroJet sees all of them under 40HP going electric, likely with a nudge from regulators.
Things are also happening at the industrial end of town, with Christchurch's HamiltonJet supplying systems for electric ferries being made for Fullers and Auckland Transport, while Toyota has supplied hydrogen fuel cells for prototype Team New Zealand chase boats as EV alternative.
Rempel says the pilot manufacturing run was completed in New Zealand, but that once her firm shifts to mass production it will be done offshore - with a contract manufacturer yet to finalised.
Rempel won't disclose the size of the Series A raise, but says it was led by NZ's largest venture capital firm, Movac, which now holds a 14 per cent stake, with support from Australia's Investible Climate Tech Fund, the NZX-listed Booster Innovation Fund.
Other investors included family offices, high net worth individuals and repeat investment from Impact Enterprise Fund and Sir Stephen Tindall's K1W1. (Sealegs co-founder Maurice Bryham sold his 10 per cent stake in ZeroJet last week.)
ZeroJet was founded by Rempel - who is also its accountant and finance manager - with Neil Mans, a senior machinist at Buckley Systems, the Auckland maker of precision magnets for the semi-conductor industry.
In 2014, the couple - both outdoor enthusiasts - moved to Perth where they set up a store, renting and selling Czech-made "JetSurf" boards, otherwise known as surfboards with motors.
They founded a startup to take the concept further, and developed a jet propulsion system that could take boards to 70km/h. While that may be proved a bit rich for the average punter's blood, they were able to carry over much of the technology for their 2019 pivot to become ZeroJet.
Today, the start-up employs 25 staff, including engineers who have previously worked for the likes of Apple and Rocket Lab, and is looking for another eight immediately, with more hires to come.
Rempel says while ZeroJet is exposed to the same supply chain problems dogging electric car makers, it is lining up multiple suppliers for each component in a bid to build in redundancy.
"Within the nascent marine electrification niche, the time is right for disruption," Rempel says.
Big change coming
The boat building industry is highly fragmented and spread across thousands of
companies and brands worldwide. Regulations are changing fast and in less than 10
years, it's possible that all new boats with engines below 40hp will be electric, co-founder Mans says.
ZeroJet's goal is to provide boat builders with a high-performance turnkey electric jet
propulsion system that they can install in less than two hours.
"Up until now, there simply weren't enough options for climate-conscious boaties.
"We have solar panels and battery packs for our houses; and we have myriad choices
when it comes to electric cars - but high-performance electric motors for those
wanting to enjoy their boats more responsibly are still a rarity.
"There is, quite literally, a ready-made market out there for products that can deliver an experience equal to or even better than combustion engines," Mans says.