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RIT center provides battery prototyping services

The recently opened $1.5 million Battery Prototyping Center at Rochester Institute of Technology is helping companies here and around the country develop energy storage technologies designed to improve product use, reduce waste and cut costs.

A new proposal to the state could mean as much as $800,000 for the center as it helps local businesses working to bring manufacturing to the Rochester region.

“We currently have a proposal to New York State through the Regional Economic Development Council to request funding as part of the governor’s upstate revitalization plan,” said Christopher Schauerman, co-director of the Battery Prototyping Center.

Approved projects will be announced in the next few months, he said.

The center is proposing to expand its capabilities to create and test pouch cell batteries. This type of battery is being used more now for lithium ion applications as a way to reduce weight and cost and optimize packaging efficiency. Pouch cell batteries can be found in electronics such as tablets, cell phones and even electric vehicles.

The center opened on the RIT campus in March. It was funded through New York State Research and Development Authority and Empire State Development. The center provides prototyping services for more than 150 members of the New York Battery Energy Storage Technology consortium.

“Our goal is to help startups by scaling up their technology from a laboratory scale to commercial quality cells. It will ultimately create jobs in New York,” Schauerman said.

Creating partnerships is crucial to bringing the technology to market, local leaders believe, and they have been working to draw businesses together to benefit from the advantages of the expertise RIT has as well as the strength of shared resources.

“People don’t realize the testing that’s done before a product goes to market,” said Mark Peterson, president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc. and a member of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

To be certified, batteries must be tested extensively, he said.

Along with its colleges and universities, Peterson said, the region’s assets include Eastman Business Park.

“We are experts for these companies,” he said. “It allows us to offer something to the marketplace.”

Three firms focused on batteries and energy storage now operate at Eastman Business Park. Among them is Cerion Energy, which has developed next-generation lithium-ion batteries.

“There’s real synergy with battery and energy storage. As breakthroughs shake out, companies will ramp up,” Peterson said. “When they ramp up, they invest hundreds of millions of dollars and create thousands of jobs. It’s like what we’re seeing with 1366 Technologies in the solar industry. It will be the same for the battery industry, too.”

Massachusetts-based 1366 Technologies in October announced plans to become the anchor tenant at the Western New York Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park in Genesee County.

The solar sector has been growing rapidly in the energy industry, Peterson noted, adding that it is all part of the same network.

“We’re still completing that ecosystem. We have it about 90 percent complete at Eastman Business Park,” Peterson said, explaining how the process with companies begins with an idea that is turned into a prototype at the business park, which then can be tested and manufactured there once it is approved for commercialization.

Graphenix Development Inc. is a Buffalo-based New York Battery Energy Storage Technology member working at Eastman Business Park. The company was founded in 2009 and has nine employees. CEO Robert Anstey expects two new hires by the end of this year or the end of the first quarter.

With help from the Battery Prototyping Center at RIT, he predicts job growth will be on a much larger scale once his company’s technology can be brought to market. The company is close to completing a million-dollar round of funding from local investors.

“Over the next five years we anticipate adding 25 jobs,” Anstey said. “We already have large-scale manufacturing being tested at (Eastman Business Park).”

Graphenix ultra capacitors can store 20 percent more energy than similar devices, Anstey said, and the company is using the Eastman Business Park to prove its technology on a large scale. It has applications for use in a range of hybrid to full-electric vehicles.

“The key application is for starting and stopping a car engine many times a day,” Anstey said. “It’s good for fuel efficiency. The engine doesn’t have to be on all the time. Our timeline for development is 2016, around Q3.”

Graphenix is using the battery center to make prototypes of their advanced ultra capacitors.

Another company banking on help from the Battery Center also kicked in toward a $50,000 grant for RIT sponsored by the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute. The grant is for finding a greener way to manufacture batteries. A portion of the grant, $5,000, was paid by Fernando Gomez-Baquero, CEO of BessTech LLC based in Troy, Rensselaer County. The company is working with the battery center.

“We’re very interested in the recycling aspect,” he said. “RIT has a focus on environmental technology. They have the battery center, using technology and green technology. It’s a perfect fit.”

In the project BessTech has partnered on with RIT, the focus is on a battery manufacturing process that reduces waste. The components are metal and silicon, Gomez-Baquero explained, so they are easily recycled.

“We can make an electrode that costs half as much and has twice the performance. It’s the first time anyone has ever done this. It’s efficient: no chemicals, no solvents,” he added.

Gomez-Baquero traveled to California to test his product before he began working with RIT because he said there was no one else with the capability to do it. The equipment is too expensive for his company to buy, although he said he would not buy it even if he could afford it.

“There’s always a little skepticism in this industry,” Gomez-Baquero said. “It’s better to have a third party to give testament. The customer really likes to see this tested by a world-renowned institution like RIT.”

BessTech was founded in 2010 with three employees. The company hired four more this year. It produces components for lithium ion batteries with applications for wearable devices—items such as smartwatches and even baby monitors built into children’s clothing.

“This is an expanding market,” Gomez-Baquero said. “We love it because designers can come up with products very fast.”

Testing continues on his battery and Gomez-Baquero expects to be able to begin manufacturing soon. He has three sites in mind, with the Battery Prototyping Center giving Rochester an advantage.

“We have been talking to people at Kodak in Rochester, people in Albany and people in Binghamton,” he said. “I think next year one of them will kick off. We’re still building an ecosystem. We like Rochester since the testing center is there.”

11/27/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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