Pair of Plug-In Hybrids in Washington DC
The two converted Priuses that took part in May 2006 demonstration to Congress of plug-in hybrids. The white model belongs to CalCar's Felix Kramer (left of Gal Luft). The silver model is Electro Energy, Inc.'s model with its bi-polar NiMH batteries.

When Being Bi-Polar is a Good Thing

Part one of a two-part conversation with Electro Energy Inc.'s president and CEO Michael Reed.

By Bill Moore

In the world of mental health, being bi-polar means someone is subject to wild, sometimes dangerous mood swings that typically must be treated with medication, often for many years, if not life.

However, when we're talking about bi-polar in our EV World, it's supposed to be a good thing in batteries, especially like those being developed by Electro Energy Inc. (EEI) of Danbury, CT. But just exactly why that is I wasn't entirely sure, so when I got a press release stating that EEI had received a contract from Lockheed Martin for a lithium chemistry-based version of their bi-polar battery design, I knew I finally had to call Mike Reed.

I met the President and CEO of EEI late last year at the EDTA annual conference in Washington, D.C. We exchanged business cars and I promised to contact him to do an interview, but time warped ("flying" is too slow to describe the passage of time anymore) and suddenly it was summer 2007. I got in touch with him just as he was leaving on vacation, but he promised to do the interview just a soon as he got back in the office; and true to his word, he called me at almost precisely the time we'd agreed upon.

As is my practice, I had sent him my list of ten questions in advance, so he was prepped to talk extensively about his company, their products and their development plans, including the bi-polar lithium ion battery contract from Lockheed for their High-Altitude Airship (yes, that's right, "airship") program.

The interview took longer than I had expected, some 38 minutes actually, so I decided to split it into two 19-minute segments, which will be published over two consecutive weeks. What follows is part one of our discussions, which you can listen to using either of the two MP3 players at the top of this page. I also decided to try a new narrative approach for our subscribers who prefer to read rather than listen to the interviews. Let me know what you think of the new "bullet points" structure.

IN BRIEF: Synopis of Interview - Part 1

  • Electro Energy Inc. (Nasdaq: EEEI) was founded 15 years ago by Marty Klein, the co-founder of Fuel Cell Energy.

  • The company's bi-polar batter technology has been funded over the last decade and a half by various agencies of the U.S. federal government to the tune of some USD$30 million. These include the U.S. Departments of Energy, the Army and Air Force.

  • Michael Reed joined the company two years ago to help it transition from R&D company to a commercial manufacturer with production facilities in Colorado and a newly acquired plant from Energizer, located in Gainesville, Fl., which will handle most of the large-scale manufacturing for the company. This plant is the only one in the United States equipped to produce 18650 cells and will initially focus on production of NiMH batteries for the U.S. military, who don't want to be dependent on foreign sources.

  • The Colorado Springs, Colorado facility was acquired four years ago from Eagle Picher and produces Ni-Cad batteries for the aerospace industry and military. The Apache and Cobra attack helicopters utilize the company's battery to start their gas turbine engines. All or parts of batteries manufactured by EEI can also be found in communication satellites and the Hubble Space Telescope. The Colorado facility does both manufacturing and some R&D; it is here where some of the company's lithium ion battery research is being conducted.

  • The Gainesville plant, which Energizer built for an estimated $112 milion, when expanded to its fully potential, which will include both 18650 production and the company's proprietary bi-polar cells, will eventually generate, according to Reed, "will take us into production revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars."

  • Reed clarified what a 18650 cell is; it refers to the dimensional size of the battery, the internal chemistry of which can be either NiMH or lithium, though it is the latter that is generally associated with this type of cell.

  • EEI's bi-polar battery differs from conventional batteries in that the internal cathodes and anodes are stacked in a wafer-like assembly, in some respects exactly like a PEM fuel cell. Their chief advantage is the path of the current moves directly from "wafer" to "wafer" rather than through a series of current collector tabs which must then be mechanically connected. A bi-polar battery (and Reed admits that technically, their battery is more a psuedo-bi-polar than a strict bi-polar design) reduces the overall resistance in the battery, reduces the number of connectors and attachment processes, while reducing the amount of interior "dead space" in the battery. In contrast, conventional cylindrical batteries, when assembled in battery module have as much as 30% wasted space -- though this can be used to temperature management through air flow between the cells.

  • The wafer-to-wafer design also reduces heat build-up in the battery, which simplifies battery management, something that is critical especially in certain types of lithium ion batteries.

  • EEI's breakthrough in bi-polar design was how it encapsulates the electrodes and electrolyte inside a plastic "frame". In addition, all of the components that make up the "wafers" can be produced and assembly in what resembles a "sheet-fed" printing processes. it is all highly-automated and highly controlled. It is this automation and control that enables the company to be cost competitive with the cheap labor markets of the world.


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    Published: 11-Jul-2007


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