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S potlight on innovation


Storage: The Key to Clean Energy’s Future

As the energy and transportation sectors of the United

are making key innovations in storage technology to

States economy begin to show signs of renewal and

help propel the sectors forward.

transformation, how to store energy better remains an important national issue. U.S. Department of Energy

Improvements in Solid-State Batteries

Secretary Steven Chu, testifying before the Senate in

In his 2011 State of the Union address, President

early 2010, focused on the need to create the storage

Obama reiterated his goal of having a million electric

that can support an advanced energy grid, renewable

cars on the road by 2015. In order to help meet that

power, and electric vehicles.

aim, the French multinational Saft, one of the top bat-

He also testified that “a battery that can last for five

tery makers in the world, is opening a new $200 mil-

thousand deep discharges and has four to five times high-

lion manufacturing plant in Jacksonville, FL to build ad-

er storage capacity and lower cost will lead to large-scale

vanced lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries for hybrid vehicles,

penetration of hybrid electric and all-electric vehicles.”

aviation, and renewable energy sources. The new plant

ARPA-E, the DOE’s advanced research project for en-

will employ 300 workers and will produce about $300

ergy, is devoting more than $400 million in grants to the

million worth of batteries per year.

development of energy technologies, including the bat-

Jim McDowall, business development manager for

teries needed for storage of electrical energy. In March

Saft America, says the company’s batteries have already

2011, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced a re-

proved to be successful in these applications, particularly

search partnership with ARPA-E. “One of the things that

so far in the military context. The main goal now is to in-

holds us back is our [in]ability to store energy,” Mabus

crease production and reduce their cost, which will make

told the 2011 MIT Energy Conference in his keynote ad-

the batteries more attractive for the civilian market, nota-

dress. Florida companies understand this potential and

bly for energy storage.



do, FL-based Planar Energy. “The process is slow, and it’s historically only been used for very small surface areas.” Faris licensed the solid-state battery technology developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratories and combined it with a technology developed in Florida, working with a team of Florida researchers to improve that technology. The new Planar System, based on a rollto-roll system, provides a significant reduction in the cost of manufacturing the batteries. “We’ve developed both the process [in Florida] and the battery technology itself,” says Faris. “We’ve been able to create a whole new class of materials and apply that to energy storage.”

Lab technician Binh Tran displays

Planar Energy recently won a $4 million Department

a cathode deposited via Planar Energy’s proprietary technology.

of Energy award under ARPA-E to develop and manufacture the new solid-state batteries, which Faris says can

In a similar move, Bren-Tronics, based in New York, is

be made for half the cost of the current li-ion technology

also opening a rechargeable battery manufacturing plant,

while offering triple the performance. “When we won the

primarily for military applications but also for industrial

grant, we not only showed that we could make a battery

uses, just southwest of Jacksonville in Gainesville, FL.

that people wanted, but [that] in parallel we’d developed

Li-ion batteries are currently the technology of choice

a manufacturing methodology that would allow it to be

for hybrid and electrical vehicles. There are, however, a

done at a significantly reduced cost,” says Faris.

number of limitations to this technology, including the en-

Planar Energy is expanding its facilities to demonstrate

ergy density (the amount of energy stored, which affects

that the technology works, creating first small cells, and

the length of the time the battery can be used before it

then larger cells that can power automobiles or provide

needs to be recharged), and the life span of the battery,

storage for renewable energy. Faris predicts that within a

since the chemical reactions in the battery eventually

year, the company will be able to demonstrate the tech-

damage the cathode.

nology in automobile-sized batteries.

Many battery experts believe that the batteries of the

Florida, he says, provided an ideal location for the com-

future will be solid state, because solid-state batteries

pany, in particular because of the legacy of the semi-

are, in theory at least, more stable, have a longer life,

conductor business in the state. “Some of the research

and can be made smaller for the same amount of power

centers created are still in existence and have focused

density. Today’s solid-state batteries, however, are prohibi-

efforts on clean tech,” says Faris, “such as the Center for

tively expensive to manufacture.

Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) at

“Using [existing manufacturing] processes could cost as

the University of Central Florida, which is now very much

much as a thousand times more” than the equivalent li-ion

a player in solid state lighting and solar power materials

batteries, says entrepreneur Scott Faris, founder of Orlan-

development. We also benefit from the materials charac-



terization infrastructure [in the state] to support us.” Faris partnered with a team of UF researchers including Kevin Jones, former chair of the department of materials science and engineering, to test Planar’s batteries. Jones says that he and his colleagues are characterizing Planar’s materials, “trying to understand the fundamentals so they can go off and make a better battery. The potential is tremendous,” says Jones.

Flat Power On February 14, MasterCard and Symantec Corporation announced a new credit card with advanced security features for the U.S. market. Existing card security relies on short numeric codes, but that number, like the card number itself, can be easily stolen and used for internet purchases. The new cards feature a display that generates single-use passwords synchonized with an algorithm housed at MasterCard. The card’s new display and mini electronic system is

Source: Solicore

supported by Lakeland, FL-based Solicore’s paper -thin

cess used by credit card manufacturing companies. Cards

battery technology.

are formed by hot lamination, where plastic is put into a

Solicore was founded in 2001, and the company’s

press and melted with extreme pressure and high tem-

founders noticed that the market needed new technol-

peratures. The battery had to be able to survive these ex-

ogy to power displays like those on credit cards. But no

tremes, and it now operates at temperatures up to 135 °C

existing product was thin and flexible enough to be em-

and 225 pounds of pressure.

bedded into a card. Coin-shaped batteries are too bulky

The new MasterCard is the first major card in the Unit-

for a card’s profile, and they lack the needed flexibility.

ed States to offer the single-use security coding powered

With the help of a team of battery experts, company

by Solicore’s thin, flexible battery. This technology was

researchers developed a lithium battery where the anode

first used in credit cards in Europe and Asia. The product

and cathode are separated by a (proprietary) thin layer.

was on the market by 2005, and by 2008 the company’s

“It’s coated on, and it looks as if it’s solid, but it can bend

manufacturing capability had increased from a few thou-

and flex,” says Dave Eagleson, vice president of sales. “It

sand batteries per day to more than 2.5 million a month.

sits almost like a sponge between the two materials and

As battery-powered credit cards take off, Solicore also

allows energy to move freely between the two sides.”

sees opportunities in the medical-sensor sector. In one

One of the challenges in developing the technology, be-

application, where Solicore has partnered with Laerdal, a

yond the need for flexibility, was the manufacturing pro-

battery-powered card will aid in CPR: “Laerdal is a world



leader in CPR training,” explains Eagleson. “They’ve created a credit card-sized device that can be placed on a person’s chest” that contains technology to judge depth and compression frequency. He continues, “As you’re pushing down, the card measures compressions and senses how far each one has dropped, and gives you an indication if you’re doing it correctly.” The card can also aid in measuring the success of continuing training for CPR workers such as EMT doctors and nurses, replacing classroom-based refresher training. Eagleson adds that Solicore’s battery is being used in a smart bandage, a type of medical patch, with a time-

Source: City Labs

based sensor that could instruct the patch as to the appropriate time to deliver a particular medication. This en-

class of security. Those keys are backed up on the ve-

trance into medical technology could help the company

hicle, and that backup operates on battery power. Coin-

boost its Florida-based personnel and manufacturing.

cell batteries have been used in the past, but they fail quickly because of the massive temperature swings

Betavoltaic Batteries

that confront a plane that flies at 40 thousand feet and

Current chemical batteries have a number of limita-

minus 60 °C, and then lands in the desert’s broiling

tions, including their short lifespan and the limited


range of temperatures and pressures at which they

Though City Labs did not win that particular small

can function. Peter Cabauy of City Labs in Homestead,

business innovation research grant, its company re-

FL, which was founded in 2005 and first housed within

searchers decided to develop just such a battery, based

Florida International University’s technology incubator,

on betavoltaic technology, anyway. Betavoltaic batter-

discovered these limitations when he and his cofound-

ies operate via radioisotopes: like photovoltaic cells,

ers looked into starting a new technology company in

beta-voltaic batteries absorb radiation, but instead of

south Florida.

sunlight, the radiation comes from a physical source

The founders researched the federal government’s

that emits electrons.

small business innovation research grants and discov-

“In hot, cold, rain, shine, the fuel is always work-

ered an unmet need for a long-life power source, a

ing; it’s always emitting electrons,” says Cabauy. “It

battery that supplies small amounts of power and that

can withstand temperature swings and could last for

can withstand major temperature ranges and last for

20 years.”

decades. The military needs such batteries, to take one

The idea of radiation-powered batteries has been

example, on unmanned aerial vehicles; all information

around since the 1950s, but previous attempts used ra-

that is exchanged between the base and UAV must be

dioisotopes with high energy, explains Cabauy, and the

encrypted, and the crypto-keys demand the highest

electrons destroyed the semiconductor. Instead, City



“Conventional batteries [in a sensor] would have to be implanted every six months, but the tritium battery can last decades.”

Hydrogen Power

Labs focused on tritium as a radiation source, since

cells in transportation.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are used today for select energy needs, primarily in buildings and for backup power. California is starting to roll out hydrogen-powered vehicles, and Chinese authorities are offering rebates on cars and buses that operate using fuel cells; these hint at the enduring possibility of the use of fuel

tritium—one of the most benign radioisotopes—is al-

Daniel Betts, director of the West Palm Beach, FL-

ready used to emit radiation to power the phosphores-

based EnerFuel, sees the possibility that fuel cells might

cent glow in divers’ waters and exit signs (though the

serve to support lithium-ion batteries in vehicles, rather

signs are not battery-powered).

than to compete with them in the marketplace. Ener-

“[With tritium], the beta electrons are the least

Fuel, a division of the energy solutions company Ener1,

powerful, and a sheet of paper could stop them,” says

has focused its research on a synergistic technology

Cabauy. “That’s great for safety, but it’s difficult to get

that pairs fuel cells with batteries; the fuel cell sips at re-

that energy converted in a semiconductor. We had to

newable fuel such as biodiesel and then supplies power

work on getting the efficiency up.” From 2006 through

to the battery.

2008, the team focused on developing the semi-con-

This could prevent what’s known as “range anxiety”

ductor structure, and then achieved the appropriate

for drivers of electric vehicles, because the battery can

regulatory licenses that certify the product’s safety,

be recharged when necessary by the small fuel cell on

and are needed to allow anyone, without prior radiation

longer drives. Such recharging both reduces the need

training or licensing, to buy the product.

for fuel and potentially lengthens the battery’s life. The

Source: E2I

City Labs originally partnered with Lockheed Martin

pairing could also obviate the need for an extensive net-

in Florida to develop this technology. Lockheed Martin

work of recharge stations. “This could provide a whole

was interested in its military applications and tested

new set of options,” says Betts, adding that the technol-

the batteries from minus 50 °C to 150 °C.

ogy could also be useful for distributed stationary power generation using renewable fuels.

In December 2010, the company was awarded a con-

A number of different prototypes have demonstrated

tract worth nearly $1 million from the U.S. Air Force

the fuel cell-battery technology, and now EnerFuel engi-

Research Laboratory for its tritium-based batteries. Beyond military applications, City Labs sees poten-

neers are testing the systems in various real-world situ-

tial medical applications. “One company is looking at

ations and environments and are finalizing the manufac-

monitoring tumor regrowth. Conventional batteries [in

turing designs.

a sensor] would have to be implanted every six months,

One challenge for today’s fuel cells is that they remain

but the tritium battery can last decades,” says Cabauy.

too expensive for widespread use, in part because they

The company is currently expanding its manufacturing

rely on prohibitively costly platinum catalysts. To deal

in the Miami area.

with this, Jim Zheng, a researcher at Florida State Uni-



versity’s Center for Advanced Power Systems, designed

num,” says Bing Energy’s vice president Richard Hen-

a membrane made of carbon nanotubes that could re-

nek. He points out that the technology allows the new

duce the need for platinum in the catalyst.

fuel cells to increase performance by 40 percent and du-

These membranes, say Zheng, are highly conductive

rability by 25 percent, all at a cost reduction approaching

and can reduce the amount of platinum needed, allow-

60 percent.

ing it to be placed exclusively in smaller areas where

In February, Bing Energy announced that it is moving

it will be the most effective, using a method that al-

the company’s world headquarters to Tallahassee to de-

lows more of the reactive platinum surface area to be

velop and commercialize the research. The company is

exposed. Zheng points out that the membrane is also

in the process of scaling up its technology and volume

thinner and lighter than current fuel-cell components,

of production, and will be selling fuel cell components in

reducing the size of fuel cells that will be required in the

the first half of 2011. Bing Energy is also a subcontrac-


tor to the University of Central Florida and Florida State

The fuel cells fall within a class known as polymer

University on a Department of Energy grant to develop

electrolyte membrane fuel cells, which were developed

a 500 watt fuel cell stack.

originally for the military and aerospace applications.

“The breakthrough research and the company’s de-

Bing Energy was formed to commercialize Zheng’s pat-

cision to come to Florida confirm that the investment

ented technology, and recently entered an exclusive

made in their work by our state and the federal govern-

partnership with FSU to develop the fuel cells.

ment has realized its commercial potential,” concluded

“His discoveries offer tremendous breakthroughs in

Eric Barron, president of Florida State University, in a

performance, in durability, and in the reduction of plati-

recent press release.

Florida’s Cleantech Cluster Florida is an emerging hub for advanced battery manufacturing and has wide ranging strengths in fuel cell, hydrogen, and supporting electronics and energy storage technologies. Ranked #3 in cleantech businesses, Florida is on the leading edge of cleantech innovation. With abundant natural resources, worldclass talent, a favorable business climate and a large market for cleantech products, Florida offers ideal conditions for the industry’s development. To learn more about expanding your cleantech business in Florida, contact Enterprise Florida, the state’s official economic development organization, at 407.956.5600; or visit “Spotlight on Innovation” is a multi-part series highlighting the technologies that are changing the ways in which business is done in the cleantech, life sciences, infotech and homeland security clusters. The series is produced by Technology Review’s custom publishing division in partnership with Enterprise Florida. Copyright (c) 2011 Enterprise Florida, Inc. All Rights Reserved. The content of this report may not be reproduced in any way without the express consent of Enterprise Florida, Inc.


MIT tech REview for Florida  

This is from A Florida Clean TEch association about storage companies in FLA

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