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, 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, 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.  
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
[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
[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
[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.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

OTC Markets 2012 Stats

For the last couple of years, we've reported some of the trading statistics released by the OTC Markets. A couple weeks ago, they released a summary of their activity in 2012.

The OTC (over-the-counter) Marketplace is divided up into tiers based on the transparency, size and performance of the company.  There are three tiers of companies which provide current information about their securities:

·         OTCQX (the highest tier for companies that meet certain financial standards, provide regular reports, audited financial statements and have the greatest transparency)

·         OTCQB (for companies that are reporting to the SEC or other US regulator and current in those reports)

·         OTC Pink Current Information (for companies that provide regular reports and are current in those filings; our company is on this tier [Symbol: EIPC])

There are two lower tiers for companies that either are not current in their reporting obligations or choose to provide limited or no information. 

·         OTC Pink Limited Information (which, according to the OTC Markets website, is reserved “for companies with financial reporting problems, economic distress, or in bankruptcy to make the limited information they have publicly available.”  It should also be noted that there may be companies on this tier that are not having financial trouble, but rather simply choose not to provide information in accordance with OTC Market guidelines)

·         OTC Pink No Information (consists of companies not willing or able to make any disclosures)

There are two other tiers in the OTC Markets, (“Grey Markets” and “Caveat Emptor”), but statistics on these are not mentioned in the report. 

I found a couple of interesting things in their statistics.  The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that, although nearly 37% of OTC securities are either on the "limited information” or “no information” tiers, these securities account for only 5% of the total trading volume.

And, although the Pink Current Information tier represents only a quarter of the securities listed, they account for over half the total volume.

It is also worth noting that the OTC Markets as a whole seems to be moving in the right direction.  Here is a summary of where the tiers seem to be headed.

OTCQX tier:  Since 2009, this group has more than tripled in size:
2009: 78 companies
2010: 159
2011: 246
Dec 2012: 400

OTCQB tier: This group (with the 2009 numbers combined between the OTCBB on Pink Quote and the OTCBB only) has seen small decreases, year-to-year, since 2010:
2009: 3,390
2010: 3,851
2011: 3,716
Dec 2012: 3,401

The decreases could be due to a number of reasons – for example, companies could have voluntarily decided to move to the pink sheets (to save money) or they could have been forced to do so due to failures in their reporting obligations, or they may have been promoted to a higher exchange, either within the OTC Markets, or to NASDAQ or one of the other exchanges.

OTC Pink Current Information: This group has risen steadily since 2009:
2009: 1,695
2010: 1,830
2011: 2,043
Dec 2012: 2,499

OTC Pink Limited Information: This group has seen decreases in two consecutive years:
2009: 739
2010: 749
2011: 723
Dec 2012: 609

OTC Pink No Information: This group saw a sharp rise between 2009 and 2010, but has decreased over the last couple years:
2009: 2,445
2010: 3,375
2011: 3,355
Dec 2012: 3,065

For more information, including some trading volume data, check out the OTC Markets press release, issued on 6 March 2013:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

10 Reasons to Consider an Investment in Enable IPC

We get a lot of questions from investors and potential investors.  We do our best to provide both the required info in our periodic filings with the OTC Markets and annual meetings, as well as additional information in our corporate website and this blog. 

As we have worked to answer those investment-related questions and educate people on the Company, I finally decided to summarize those answers.  And guess what?  Yes, we came up with our own “Top Ten” reasons to consider an investment in Enable. 

I have to apologize in advance if this list seems like we are bragging.  But we have been at this a while and are proud of our accomplishments and excited about our future, and to coin an old phrase, if it’s true, is it really bragging?  Well, maybe.

I also have to add a disclaimer that I am not trying to sell you anything, and I am not offering investment advice.  I am simply listing the reasons why I think people might want to consider adding Enable IPC to their portfolio.

Here you go – our “Top Ten”:

1:  Revenues.  Our revenues have grown, quarter-to-quarter, for the past five quarters in a row and we expect to continue this trend.  By the way, revenues are a somewhat rare thing in over-the-counter stocks.

2:  Profits.  Enable is profitable – an even rarer thing in over-the-counter stocks and, sometimes, profitability can even be difficult to find in some Nasdaq-listed entities.

3:  Longevity.  On March 17, 2013, Enable will be 8 years old. The company has been around a while and should no longer be considered a “start up”.  Enable’s longevity could be considered an indicator about its future.

4:  Low overhead.  Enable’s culture is unpretentious.  The Company eschews fancy workstations, cool digs and such.  Its overhead is low and the Company is run with an aim to keep it low.  We are here for the technologies we develop, not fancy offices or stocked kitchens.

5:  Solid market opportunities.  There are some solid market opportunities (yes, plural [opportunities], not singular [opportunity]).  These are in the energy storage and RFID areas, which are solid, stable markets that are not likely to undergo massive reductions in size anytime soon. Both of these market segments appear to be on upward-trends.

6.  Valid, real-world technologies.  Enable’s technologies have been validated by both the markets (e.g., RFID tags that are being sold by major, established distributors that have historical success and existing market paths) and researchers (e.g., the National Science Foundation (NSF), who selected the Company’s technology for funding after the proposal was evaluated by third party, experienced researchers and was part of only 3% of over 1,000 initial proposals).  Our ideas are not pie-in-the-sky stuff; they’re real-world.

7.  Undervaluation?  Maybe.  Enable’s stated projection is that its sales for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013 will be about $1.4M (as we mentioned in our annual stockholders’ meeting last August) and, as we’ve stated, we should have no problem hitting that goal.  On January 7, 2013, Enable’s market cap was about $1.35M.  It appears the Company might be undervalued based on its current financial matrix.

8.  Experienced staff.  The Company includes a CEO with over 20 years executive management experience with successful start-ups, a Chief Scientist also with 20+ years’ experience in the field and over 30 publications to his credit, a Board populated with an extremely high level of legal, accounting and business expertise and a highly qualified, experienced and degreed staff.  For us, its quality over quantity.

9.   High likelihood of near-term increasing revenues.  In the next 12 to 18 months, the Company plans to expand its RFID product line as it completes the NSF project.  As this success builds, revenues stand a good chance of increasing soon (i.e., within the next one to three years) from the licensing of the new technologies.

10. Great long-term potential.   As the Company finalizes its work with nanoparticles in batteries, and expands into other related areas, its future potential becomes significant.  If one considers just the licensing revenue possible from the lithium ion battery market (at or approaching $10 billion worldwide in 2013), the potential is huge.
We plan to take these topics, one at a time, over the next couple months or so and expand on each.  If we think of other reasons, we’ll add them.  And, if you think of other reasons, we’d like to hear those as well.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Could Our Technology Have Helped the 787 Dreamliner Avoid the Battery Issues?

Li-Ion battery from the 787 Dreamliner that had an electrical
fire at Boston's Logan International Airport. Photo released
by the National Transportation Safety Board.
We’ve been asked an interesting question: could our nanoparticle technology have prevented the recent battery problems on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner? 

In case you’ve haven't heard, Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger jets were grounded in the US by the FAA Wednesday, and now they are grounded globally over some battery problems linked to a fire in Boston and resulting in an emergency landing in Japan. The batteries in question were lithium-ion (Li-Ion) – and it appears as though the company that supplied the battery used a LiCoO2 cathode (this according to an article in MIT Technology Review). 

Now, stay with me here . . . Li-Ion batteries can be made from different cathode materials. LiCoO2 is used more than others because it can store a lot of energy. 

But, there are safety concerns with LiCoO2; it’s relatively unstable and overcharging could result in a fire.  You might have heard about laptop batteries catching fire in the past.

Is this what happened on the 787s? We don’t know yet. You wouldn’t think so because LiCoO2 has been used for a long time and, usually, there are some safety devices built-in to prevent overcharging.

Still, there are alternatives to LiCoO2. One is LiMn2O4; it is safer and less expensive. But, it isn’t widely used because it tends to quickly lose energy after repeated charges and discharges, especially when it’s in hotter environments.

Our nanoparticle coatings are aimed at solving this issue and allowing the use of LiMn2O4 instead of the less safe, and more expensive, LiCoO2.

This is important stuff – the National Science Foundation (NSF) has given us two grants to develop this technology, and we’ve had multiple meetings with battery manufacturers about it. There’s a ton of interest in the industry regarding our solution.

The success we’ve had with these nanoparticle coatings, and the fact that they could open the door to the widespread use of safer, less expensive Li-Ion battery materials, may be a game-changer in this area.

An abstract on our technology can be found here: