Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Short update on lawsuit . . .

A lawsuit involving Enable IPC subsidiary SolRayo, Inc. against Steven Oshinsky was concluded in February with the court awarding a $2.5 million judgment in favor of SolRayo. The Los Angeles Superior Court found that Steven Oshinsky had breached an oral contract with SolRayo and, in addition, “intentionally interfered with [SolRayo’s] existing economic and contractual relationships and misappropriated and disclosed trade secrets to third parties.” The judge also found that Oshinsky “took these actions intentionally, maliciously, and fraudulently and with a purpose and intention of causing severe harm and damage to” SolRayo. Oshinsky  did this personally and through the use of alter ego and front companies, including JMPW Management, LLC and Ram Capital Management Trust as part of his “scheme to damage and injure” SolRayo. $1.5 million against Steven Oshinsky was awarded in actual damages along with an additional $1 million in punitive damages.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Update on nanoparticle materials


Enable IPC's subsidiary, SolRayo, Inc., is wrapping up its National Science Foundation Phase II grant research on commercializing the application of its nanoparticle solution to lithium-ion battery cathodes. 

The company has had some remarkable results. Applying the nanoparticle solution to lithium-ion battery cathodes decreases the degradation of the cathode materials allowing less expensive cathode materials to be used - previously these materials would degenerate too quickly for efficient use. These materials have particular benefits when used in high temperature or high power applications where the increased stress and degradation would normally be more apparent.

The company is completing tests on full cells with materials currently used in commercial batteries.  Although the program is officially ending, work still continues as SolRayo, together with three other entities, aim to make pouch cells which can be cycled at lower rates. The Company’s goal is to optimize the technology for licensing to larger battery manufacturers (i.e., maximizing the nanoparticles' effect on the companies existing cathode chemistries) as well as provide more standard nanoparticle-enhanced lithium manganese oxide materials to a cathode supplier for resale to other commercial battery manufacturers.

On another note, earlier this year SolRayo submitted a patent application regarding certain aspects of the preparation and deposition of the nanoparticle technology.  

Note:
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number IIP-1156229. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A short update for 2014 . . .

S/Cap RFID Tag Developments

While sales for S/Cap RFID tag products were disappointing for calendar year 2013, Enable IPC announced it is in discussions with overseas partners to produce combined GPS and RFID tags. A growing trend for the RFID industry, combining complementary tracking technologies such as RFID and GPS can provide a company unprecedented levels of supply chain efficiency. A combined GPS and RFID system can add the global tracking benefits of GPS to the locally accurate and detailed tracking provided by RFID. For more information on the benefits of combining RFID and GPS please visit check out our two-part series on combining the two technologies.


Great Results from Nanotech Coated Li-Ion Batteries

Enable IPC subsidiary, SolRayo, Inc., continues its National Science Foundation Phase II grant research on commercializing the application of its nanoparticle solution to lithium-ion battery cathodes. The company has found remarkable results. Applying the nanoparticle solution to lithium-ion battery cathodes decreases the degradation of the cathode materials allowing more powerful cathode materials to be used - previously these materials would degenerate too quickly for efficient use. These materials have particular benefits when used in high temperature or high power applications where the increased stress and degradation would normally be more apparent.

A C-rate (also called a charge rate) is the rate at which a battery discharges/charges. A C-rate of 1C means, theoretically, that the battery charges in 1 hour while 2C means 30 minutes. The company has also found that using its nanoparticle solution to provide superior materials for lithium-ion cathodes also yields longer life at higher C rates.


The company tested commercial cathode materials (i.e., cathode materials -- supplied by a company specializing in battery material supply -- which are currently used in commercial batteries) at 1C and 2C rates at elevated temperatures.  While the material failed quickly at a 2C rate without our nanoparticle coating, it remained fairly steady with our coating.  The figure below shows (in half cell configurations) an average of cells with and without the coating at 50 degrees C at a 2C rate.   These are harsh conditions where many batteries will fail.  Yet, our nanoparticle coating allows the use of a safer cathode in harsh conditions.  Higher C rates and varying temperature continue to be evaluated and characterized, as are configurations with high powered anodes currently used commercially.

2014 . . .

We expect 2014 to be the year we begin selling our nanotech product on a commercial level -- under a license agreement or as a service to cathode suppliers, or both.  We believe this will open the door to some major applications in the energy storage industry.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Combining RFID and GPS technologies Part II

Last week we looked at how GPS and RFID work, today we'll compare and contrast the two technologies and see how the strengths of each can be used to compensate for the limitations of the other.

The global range of the global positioning system is its greatest strength. GPS enabled devices can be tracked all over the world with no additional equipment necessary as the GPS satellites are already positioned overhead. However, reliance upon satellites yields the system's greatest weakness - inaccuracies or failure to determine position due to obstacles or signal reflections. The presence of buildings, mountains, or dense foliage can serve to block GPS satellite signals; operating in canyons or indoors can be very difficult or impossible. Signals can also reflect off of nearby surfaces causing the GPS device to receive too many mixed signals resulting in inaccurate locations or failures.

One of the biggest strengths of RFID is its customize-ability and flexibility. The different types of tags can address nearly all necessary purposes. Lower-cost passive tags require closer read ranges but can be teamed with readers positioned at entry points or along conveyor belts to log the tag's movement, while higher cost, "always on", active tags can be placed on items throughout a warehouse or stockyard for constant monitoring. The weakness in RFID is the reliance upon a reader. While there are handheld readers available, meaning the position of the reader is not required to be fixed in space, the overall scale of an RFID operation, due to it's reliance upon readers and limited tag read-ranges, is very much "local".

The other major difference between RFID and GPS is that an RFID tag transmits to the reader information stored on its chip. RFID tags have been combined with other monitoring equipment such as thermometers or medical equipment in order to transmit not only the tag's location, but various characteristics of the tracked item (such as temperature or vital signs).

By creating tags with combinations of RFID and GPS chips users are able to get the global tracking ability of GPS while outside the local zine then utilizing RFID for indoor or local position tracking possibly combined with other status measurements.
There are many unique ways in which this combination may manifest itself. There are combination tags developed where the tag is set to operate as RFID by default, switching to GPS once the item has left the facility "exit point". One company has a system where GPS is used to monitor an item's location in an open air stock yard. When an item needs to be moved a reader mounted on the forklift collects data on the item's exact contents. Then there is the unique example we cited in the opening of Part I, where Macy's is testing a system where GPS detects a user's approach (via smartphone) and then launches an app with advertisements to entice the customer to enter the store. Once in the store RFID systems detect customer's locations and provide promotions specific to the customer's immediate vicinity.

There are many possibilities for these relatively new GPS and RFID combined tags. With the way these two technologies uniquely balance each other there are surely many more applications to come.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Combining RFID and GPS technologies Part I - The Basics

Imagine you are walking through a busy downtown street, surrounded by businesses each seeking to stand out from the rest, gain your attention and entice you to enter their store. As the GPS chip in your smartphone detects that it has approached within a certain range of one of these businesses and app launches showing you discounts and coupons available at a store nearby. When you enter the store and RFID reader detects your phone, and therefore your entry into the business. As you browse the stores shelves RFID technology follows your exact location inside the store and provides ads for products within your immediate vicinity. 

This combination of GPS and RFID technologies is already in use, being tested in places like a Macy's store in New York. This week and next week we will look at the similarities and differences between RFID and GPS technologies and look at how they can be effectively combined.

The Global Positioning System (GPS)
GPS stands for global positioning system. According to Gps.gov, the GPS is a network of 24 satellites spaced around Earth orbit in such a way that at any given time at nearly any given location on Earth, at least 4 satellites should be positioned somewhere overhead. These satellites are equipped with very accurate atomic clocks and broadcast a signal indicating their exact location, their status and a very accurate measure of their internal time. 

GPS devices contain a chip capable of picking up these signals. Upon reading the signal from a satellite the GPS device notes the time indicated in the signal and compares it to its own internal time, using the (very small) difference between the two times along with the knowledge that the signal traveled at the constant speed of light (186,000 miles per second) to calculate its exact distance from that particular satellite. 


As seen in the image below from physics.org, knowing your distance from one satellite indicates a range of possible locations, you could be at any point on a circle with your distance to that satellite the radius. More information is needed to identify your exact location. Utilizing the signal from 3 (or more) satellites allows a "triangulation" calculation (depicted in the image)  and your device is now able to determine your exact location. The more satellite signals the device can detect, the more accurate the determined location.  
RFID
We've exlpored RFID related topics numberous times over the past few years (articles sorted for you here) so many of our readers are probably quite familiar with what makes an RFID system. In summary, an RFID system consists of two parts: a reader and a tag. An RFID tag can be as simple as a microchip and an antenna. The tag transmits information to the reader via radio waves and the reader intercepts and interprets the information or the reader sends out a signal "interrogating" the tag and the tag responds with information.

RFID tags are generally classified by power type, passive tags are the basic chip and antenna. When the reader sends a signal, that signal "wakes" the tag and the data stored on the chip is reflected back to the reader. Active tags contain batteries and are always "on", always transmitting their signals for nearby readers to pick up and the battery power boosts the strength and read-range of the signal. Battery-Assisted Passive (BAP) tags are the hybrid, a tag that "wakes up" when the reader's signal is detected (like a passive tag) and transmits the information contained in the chip, but like active tags, BAP tags use the battery to boost read range. The BAP tag is not always "on" and therefore batteries can last longer (or smaller batteries can be used). 

There are a wide variety of uses for RFID, and they make use of all the different RFID tag configurations. Small, inexpensive and simple Passive RFID tags can be printed out in large quantities and used to help track large volume, but relatively low cost items such as garments for Wal-Mart, low read range is not an issue reading items running through a conveyor belt or checkpoint. BAP or Active tags, while more expensive, provide options for tracking large items, perhaps even in real-time, in large fields like containers in a dockyard, automobiles in a parking lot, or pallets in a warehouse.

Next week we will look at the similarities and differences between GPS and RFID and how integrating the two can balance the weaknesses of each to create unprecedented tracking possibilities. 


Monday, July 22, 2013

Commercializing Our Nanoparticle Solution for Li-Ion Batteries


The most popular rechargeable batteries in the world today are lithium ion.  In 2007, the independent market research company Frost & Sullivan predicted revenues from these batteries would amount to $10.4 billion worldwide by 2012.  A new report released in 2013 from the same company stated that the actual number was even higher: $11.7 billion.  In addition, this report predicts that sales of lithium ion batteries will double by 2016.[i]
The primary cathode material used in lithium ion batteries is lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2 – to make this easier, we’ll call these “cobalt”), which is popular because of its high energy density (i.e., the amount of energy stored) by both weight and volume.  However, this material has some safety concerns, and is expensive. 

Other cathode materials are available, most notably lithium manganese oxide (LiMn2O4 – again, to make it easy, let’s call this “manganese”).  Although cell voltages and energy performance is slightly less than the cobalt cathodes, the manganese version has a similarly low recharge time and favorably compares to cobalt in terms of specific energy and cost.



Comparing LiCoO2 with LiMn2O4 cathodes
without our nanoparticle coating; adding
our coating improves cycle life.
In fact, in terms of material costs, reports have stated that the cobalt based cathode material costs an average of about $30 to $35/kg, while the manganese version was significantly less, at anywhere between $2 to $15/kg, depending on what study one believes.[ii]  And, major thermal stability studies have shown that the manganese cathode is much less prone to thermal runaway issues suffered by the cobalt cathode, which makes cobalt cathodes less safe.[iii]  

So, manganese cathodes are a much safer and less expensive alternative to cobalt.
The main reason manganese cathodes are not more widely used has to do with more pronounced “capacity fade” (especially at higher temperatures) than cobalt.  This is a decrease in the energy content of the battery, especially after repeated charging and discharging (capacity fade is seen by the consumer when a battery can no longer power a laptop on an entire cross country flight or when a cell phone battery drains more quickly than it used to).

Were it not for capacity fade, the manganese cathode might well be the chemistry of choice for lithium ion cells.  Consider what others have stated about manganese (LiMn2O4):

·         In a white paper, General Electronics Battery Co., Ltd., stated: “The chemistry of lithium manganese oxide LiMn2O4 is not a good option . . . because of its poor cycle life, especially at elevated temperature.”[iv] 

·         S.C. Park, et al, stated: “In order to use LiMn2O4 [i.e., what we called “manganese”] as a cathode material of lithium-secondary battery for an electric vehicle (EV), its rate capability should be improved.”[v]

·         And, Schwartz summed up the main reason LiMn2O4 is not widely used as a cathode, despite greater safety and lower cost: “LiMn2O4 that has been investigated extensively over the years has been plagued by severe capacity fade, particularly at elevated temperatures.”[vi]

Our subsidiary, SolRayo, has found a solution to the capacity fade issue.  Using nanoparticles, deposited onto manganese cathodes in specific ways, we have seen a significant improvement in cycle life.  
Scanning electron microscope (SEM) images of LiMn2O4 material
without and without our nanoparticle coating.  For perspective,
consider that the actual width of the material in each picture
is about 13/1000th the width of an average human hair. 

The above tests were conducted at elevated
temperatures (55C / 131F).  With our nanoparticle coating,
the "manganese"
batteries last longer.
We submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF), under their STTR program, to commercialize this process.  The program has two phases (called, appropriately enough, Phase I and Phase II).  We completed a proof of concept under Phase I and, out of over 1000 initial proposals -- all of which were subject to extensive peer reviews by experts in both industry and academia -- SolRayo's was one of only 3% chosen by the NSF to be awarded a Phase II grant.   

Now, the pathway to continued, full commercialization of this concept is not as straight-forward as one might think.  Some chemistries and some nanoparticles don't always behave the same way when stepped-up into larger packages.  So, during meetings with cathode manufacturers, as well as some consultation with experts from a local national lab and our partners at the University of Wisconsin, we concluded that the best path to full commercialization will include stepping up our process to prove its performance and reliability in increasingly larger cells.

We have started by using coin-sized cells: CR2032-sized packages (i.e., about the diameter of a nickel and the thickness of, say, 20 or 30 sheets of paper).  The research involves varying the concentrations of the nanoparticles, cathodes materials, method of coating, firing processes, cathode preparation processes – initially in half cells, then in full cells – and many, many other steps to determine the steps that give us the best and most reliable performance, as well as the most economical process.  The process needs to be repeated until desirable results are consistent over a couple hundred cells.  Only when this is achieved can we say that the "nanoparticle recipe" – for that particular size and chemistry composition – is well-established.
  
One of our coin cells, next to a nickel for size comparison.



Our Phase II work has gained the attention of potential commercial partners and may open up certain markets to us sooner rather than later.  The results to date have culminated in meetings with Global 75 companies, and some anticipate new patent filings.  The Phase II effort is scheduled to be completed in March 2014.  
The next step is to prepare larger cells (not to say that there isn't a market for coin-sized cells utilizing our nanoparticle solution); in our case, 1Ah cells which would be assembled in pouches.  Following this, the process would be stepped-up further to 3Ah cells, and eventually 20Ah cells.  Once this is done, we would consider the process fully commercialized, and we would better understand the specific fields of use in which the process would apply.
This is not as easy as it sounds and requires a level of expertise that isn't easily found.  In our case, it requires certain commercial, academic and/or gov't-funded laboratory partners with experience in this area and a depth of knowledge that is really rather unique.

And, yes, these resources are available to us.
We may find that our nanoparticle process might work out well for smaller consumer applications or for larger industrial uses.  The process may end up as renewable energy storage for residential or utility scale applications, or it might end up being used in the battery bank of an electric or hybrid vehicle.

Or, it may apply to all these, in one way or another. 




[i] Frost & Sullivan, World Secondary Lithium-Ion Battery Markets, 2007, p 2-7 and “Despite Recent Issues, Global Lithium-Ion Battery Market To Double”, RenewGrid, 22 Feb 2013, retrieved from http://www.renewgridmag.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.9612#.Uef6vfPn-Uk
[ii] J. Amirault, et. al. The Electric Vehicle Landscape: Opportunities and Challenges,2009, p 12;  Dr. Wolfgang Bernhart, Power Train 2020: The Li-Ion Battery Value Chain – Trends and Implications, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, Aug 2011 (presentation), slide 11; and Comparison of Different Battery Technologies, Trade Korea, 26 May 2006, retrieved from http://www.tradekorea.com/product/file/download.mvc?prodId=P00233231&fileSysNm=/upload_file2/product/231/P00233231/cbe9caa6_bc17a819_5d6e_4664_b546_3e4384d1c8a6.pdf
[iii] J. Dahn, et. al., Thermal Stability of LixCoO2, LixNiO2 and LiMnO2 and Consequences for the Safety of Li-ion Cells. Solid State Ionics, Vol 69, 1994, p. 265
[iv] Comparison of Different Battery Technologies, General Electronics Battery Co., white paper, 2006, p.4, retrieved from http://www.tradevv.com/chinasuppliers/angelgeb/pdf/LiFePO4-battery-75ee.pdf
[v] S.C. Park, et. al., Improvement of the rate capability of LiMn2O4 by surface coating with LiCoO2, Journal of Power Sources, 103:86, 2001
[vi] Mel Schwartz, Smart Materials, CRC Press, 2009, p. 8-5

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Solar Energy - Coming Soon To a Utility Near You

Forbes recently published an article online about Google’s investment in renewable energy.  The article states that the reasons Google is investing in solar, wind and other renewable energy opportunities have little or nothing to do with their wish to do good in the world.   


Rather, Google is investing in renewable energy because they believe that renewable energy will reap rewards, from a financial perspective.
This is a big thing.
For someone like me, who’s been involved in the renewable energy area for well something like 20 years now, this is very welcome news indeed.  For a long time we had heard that was just impossible to get solar to a point where it was financially viable without financial incentives (usually from the government).   However, in the near future, incentives may not be necessary.
The Forbes article (which you can find here:  ) provides a lot of interesting data.  For instance, the article states that "Solar panels have dropped in price by 80% over the last five years." And that "49% of the new capacity commissioned in the in U.S. in 2012 was renewable.”
 
I also happen to have some contacts in major utilities.  From these contacts I have learned that there is a tremendous expectation that solar will drop in price to the point where it will be price competitive with fossil fuels by the end of this decade (due to a combination of decreases in solar costs and expected increases in the costs of traditional fuels).
When I first heard that a few months ago, that seemed to be to be a very startling statement.
But, apparently, a combination of Clinton/Bush/Obama money, research and time have conspired (in a good way) to result in a major shift in the economics of the technology. 
 
I decided to check out this data and found some interesting information.  There are a number of ways you can cook the books (so to speak) and a number of ways to consider data reflecting the cost of solar (e.g., installed costs of residential and/or industrial at various energy levels, levelized cost of electricity, etc.).  In checking out these facts, though, I discovered that, overall, the message appears to be right -- solar costs are dropping dramatically and the use of solar in the US is rising.  Check out the charts I prepared, using data from Arizona State University and the US Department of Energy:

 
 
This is great news -- but there are still issues associated with adopting renewables, in particular solar and wind. 
Probably the biggest hurdle is the fact that the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow.  During those times, electricity will need to be obtained in some other way, probably generated by some form of fossil fuels. 
That is, unless an economical method of energy storage can be found so that excess energy created by solar and wind can be stored for use at night and/or during calm weather.
This is where we come in. 
Battery technologies are over hundred years old.  While some technologies (computer data storage for example) have improved hundreds of times just in the past couple of decades, energy storage in batteries has improved only 8 to 10 times in nearly a century.
And, an often quoted benchmark of $250/kWh still seems unattainable considering what’s currently available, even with the tremendous advances in lithium ion and other battery technologies.
We are gaining on it, though. 
The advances we've (i.e., Enable IPC and our subsidiary, SolRayo) seen in our research have been both encouraging and tremendously exciting.  The use of inexpensive nanoparticles, combined with some very innovative ways to access and combine the best features of ultracapacitors and advanced batteries are showing that they could very well be a large part of the answer we've all been looking for. 
We've been at this for over 8 years, and things seem to be coming together in an exciting way.
Stay tuned -- we are very excited about what the next few months will bring.