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