Firefly Re-invents the Lead Acid Battery

In early May, Caterpillar announced the formation of a new spin-off company called Firefly Energy Inc., whose purpose is to complete the development and commercialization of a dramatically improved lead acid battery technology. The entire research program, people and technology have been transferred out of CAT into the new startup after several years of in-house research. CAT will remain as only a partial investor once there is new financing.

Attempts have been made before to re-invent the lead acid battery, without much success. Prominent among them, Electrosource/Horizon and Bolder Technologies, both of whom ran into obstacles in cost, performance and manufacturability that couldn’t be overcome. . (In Dec 2001, Bolder was acquired out of bankruptcy by Singapore based GP Battery. In Feb 2003, Eagle-Picher announced a new joint to produce the Horizon battery.)

Firefly has high expectations that they’ve got it right. In fact, key personnel from those previous efforts are involved, along with an all star cast of battery industry veterans.

Firefly’s claims include: 1/4 the weight (eliminating 80% of the lead), double life expectancy, 7x charge rate, and manufacturing that is compatible with existing lead acid battery production facilities. It should cost no more than current lead-acid batteries, making it a small fraction of the cost of nickel metal hydride and lithium technologies. Cycle life, even at 80% depth of discharge, is several thousand cycles, one or two orders of magnitude better than conventional lead acid, on a par with the advanced technologies. Two main problems of lead acid, sulfation and corrosion, are all but eliminated. Heat dissipation is excellent, even at the greatly increased charge and discharge rates.

One of the keys to these improvements is a substrate material for the plates that no-one thought to try before. Highly porous, it provides for thousands of times more “cells”, or locations where the reaction can take place. Fourteen patents are already in process, with more to come.

The company plans to license the technology, and to manufacture with partners that already have production lines, co-branding new products that will be priced at or below leading batteries on the market.

They are raising an initial seed round now, with a $2 million “A” round to follow immediately.

Ed Williams, CEO

Bellcore Flywheel Forum

Subject: UFTO Note – Bellcore Flywheel Forum
Date: Mon, 10 Feb 1997 10:06:41 -0800
From: Ed Beardsworth

| ** UFTO ** Edward Beardsworth ** Consultant
| 951 Lincoln Ave. tel 415-328-5670
| Palo Alto CA 94301-3041 fax 415-328-5675

Attached is a draft proposal received this morning from Bellcore for its Technical Forum on Flywheel Requirements. (See earlier UFTO note Jan 28).

Additional details would be provided in the final, if and when outside organizations express serious interest in participating. Their present understanding is that the funding fee will be $50K per participant. It would probably be OK for several organizations to join as a “team”, entitled to one collective vote in any “standards forum”.


Bellcore Technical Forum Flywheel Energy Storage System Specification Work Proposal for Initial Generic Requirements

Short-duration backup power for telecommunications systems has traditionally been provided by lead-acid or Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) batteries. These batteries are susceptible to temperature, and can potentially cause disasters (service outages plus significant damage to equipment and personnel) under certain circumstances. A new energy storage technology that can eliminate most of the problems associated with batteries are Flywheel Energy Storage Systems (FESS) or electromechanical energy storage. However, this technology is in its infancy, and no requirements or standards on their performance, safety, installation, deployment, and use exist.

In addition, no guidelines or experience exists vis a vis its long-duration (20 years) in below-ground deployment. The Project described by this Proposal has as its goal the generation of an initial set of proposed incremental Generic Requirements (GR) to allow a FESS to operate and be integrated into the telephony outside plant network as a replacement for the conventional electrochemical (VRLA) batteries. The FESS will supply backup power to a communications load within the network. It may be installed at a remote site such as in the vicinity of a Controlled Environmental Vault (CEV), Electronic Equipment Enclosure (EEE), or pedestal in the outside plant environment, ranging in nominal sizes from 10 W to 10 kW, and capable of providing between 1 to 8 hours of reserve; i.e. reserve capacity possibly ranging from 10 Wh to 80 kWh.

The FESS is intended to be used as a direct battery replacement and needs to be “maintenance-free” with a life of at least 20 years in the harsh outside plant environment. In addition, the FESS is expected to be buried below ground besides CEVs, EEEs, and pedestals, and minimal construction, concrete or masonry work, is desirable at these sites. The units need to be efficient, reliable, and immune to environmental conditions of the outside plant. Modular sub-systems are desirable as they facilitate maintenance, are field replaceable, and provide graceful growth. At a minimum the GR should address the following:

– Safety – below-ground deployment, maintenance, testing, and use
– Performance and reliability – system, device, component
– Installation – emphasis on below-ground procedures
– Maintenance – routine and corrective
– Graceful planning – methods to support graceful growth.

The primary deliverable will be generic requirements document entitled Generic Requirements for Flywheel Energy Storage Systems for Telecommunications Applications, to be completed in December 1997. Successful completion of this Project should be viewed as a springboard for future work items which are not included in the scope of this Proposal. Bellcore currently has a 5 kWh above-ground FESS which is operational at its Chester, New Jersey Research and Engineering Center. A 100 Wh above-ground FESS will soon become operational.

During 1997 Bellcore hopes to install at least one other FESS, below-ground, at its Chester Lab. Experiences gained with these operating systems will provide valuable information regarding heat dissipation, reliability, maintenance, special problems, and other areas that relate to the suitability for telecommunications deployment. In addition, during 1997 Bellcore will compile information on FESS technology as it relates to telecommunications applications, focusing on below-ground installations and covering the following areas:

– Size and shape comparisons with batteries
– Heat dissipation
– Placement
– Installation and deployment
– Maintenance requirements
– Monitoring and alarms
-Integration into the power train of broadband power nodes and sites
– Economics
– Pricing and availability
– Accelerated life testing
– Reliability and mean time to failure (MTTF)

Lessons learned from this work will help generate the generic requirements for below-ground FESSs. This Project will also consider requirements extrapolated from existing relevant Bellcore documents, such as TR-NWT-000766, Generic Requirements for Valve Regulated Lead Acid Batteries [Issue 1, October 1, 1991]. Bellcore convened a symposium on the subject of employing FESS in telecommunications in July 1995 in San Diego, and held a safety forum on FESS on November 15, 1995 at Bellcore’s facility in Chester, New Jersey.

A major objective was to discuss the need for the FESS alternative, as well as the new Generic Requirements process, and the opportunity for direct industry funding and participation. Wherever feasible, relevant specifications of outside standards organizations will serve as references. However, it is anticipated that exclusive reliance on standards groups and other industry forums would result in procedures that would take longer to achieve than the accelerated 9-month time-frame planned for this project.

This time-frame depends upon the cooperation of all funding participants in the work of the Bellcore Technical Forum (BTF) and related process under which the requirements work is to be performed and involves variables which are not within Bellcore’s control. However, although Bellcore does not guarantee completion within the time frame, it is Bellcore’s objective to complete the requirements in question within that time frame and funding participants under this Proposal agree to cooperate in achieving that objective.

——- Bellcore reserves the right to withdraw this Proposal and to terminate its efforts with respect to the anticipated generic requirements, without incurring any liability to anyone, should there be in its opinion insufficient industry interest in funding participation in this Proposal and the related Bellcore Technical Forum efforts.