On Silent Watch No More
Eastern Pennsylvania historically has been a major center of lead-acid battery manufacturing, but that's about to change. International Battery, located in Allentown, PA, is starting to produce, in volume, large format, prismatic lithium ion batteries, and in this edition of EV World's Future In Motion podcast, Bill Moore speaks with the company President and CEO Dr. Ake Almgren, and one of the firm's key technologists, Dr.Shanthi Korutla [see photo below]
The company was originally founded in 2004 with the objective being to import and assemble batteries using technology developed in China. That business plan changed when it was discovered that there were quality control issues with the cells coming from China and that the U.S. military, which was one of the firm's first customers, didn't want to be dependent on foreign technology for obvious national security reasons. So, in 2006 the company located a 93,000 square feet facility in Allentown and began assembling the personnel and equipment to begin the complete manufacture of cells, including production of their own electrodes using their proprietary water-based solvent.
Today the company is running one 8-hour shift, supplying relatively small numbers of batteries to customers that include the U.S. military, NASA and American Electric Power (AEP). Applications for their batteries range from traction batteries for a soon-to-be-announced electric bus, to UPS units for NASA, to grid storage for AEP. The U.S. Army and TARDEC are testing International Batteries in the Abrams tank and Styker vehicle (pictured above).
The smallest cell the company offers is 40 amp hours, the largest 200 amp hours. At present, two chemistries are available: iron phosphate and nickel cobalt manganese, both of which have passed UN Transportation Testing (UN/DOT 38.3).
In addition to manufacturing the cells and completed batteries, the company also offers complete pack integration capabilities, including the development of its own battery management system (BMS). Given its current production capacity, it has the potential to produce 30MW of batteries annually; which could be ramped up to 200MW, if the entire Allentown facility were utilized and additional shifts added.
International Battery also operates an ongoing 'skunk works' to investigate new chemistries, as well as refine its current product line. It is now in Level C financing and remains a privately held venture largely funded by Wexford Capital.
According to Dr. Almgren, he sees the most promising market for his batteries as stationary energy storage, but he also noted that two automotive OEMs are also testing the batteries. He adds that because of his firm's size, they have to carefully select projects and partners that show the most promise in terms of revenue growth potential, which is a polite way of saying please don't ask them to supply you with batteries to test in your personal EV project. They supplied the West Philly X Prize team with their batteries, so they've plowed that field already.
To listen to the complete 30-minute telephone discussion with Dr Almgren and Dr. Korutla, use either of the two MP3 players at the right or download the 7.5MB file to your computer hard drive for playback on your favorite MP3 device.
Dr. Ake Almgren (left) with Dr. Shanthi Korutla (right)