Dr. Evan House, director of the battery business unit in Altairnano.


Ingrid Lobet: What are you doing with these lithium ion batteries? Is there any toxicity issue with the replacement material you are using instead of graphite?


Evan House: We are replacing graphite with our nano lithium titanite. There are no known toxicity issues. The material is very stable.   No known toxicity whatsoever.


Ingrid Lobet: Can you compare the quality of this battery with Nickel Metal Hydride?


Evan House: Nickel Metal hydride has quite a few limitations, life limitation, severe life limitations, measured in cycles.  A cycle would be a complete drawdown and recharge. Typically at a lower rate, an hour to two hour discharge, nickel metal you might get 1000 to 1500 cycles. We can get 20 times that much.   


In addition nickel metal hydride has some thermal issues on charge. In fact the temperature rapidly increases on charge. The battery temperature goes up dramatically. We don't have those thermal issues, we don't have those impedence issues.


Also nickel metal hydride has a very high self-discharge. In other words just sitting around, the battery can discharge 40% per month. The energy evaporates. In our case we're on the order of 5% month. 


Actually I have an electric Chevy S-10 truck. I don't get to drive it as much as I'd like.  It does have a nickel metal hydride battery and once I didn't drive it for a month and it was completely drained.  These batteries two to six months down the road it will still be charged.


Ingrid Lobet: Was there a moment when you though, "Gee there might be something important here?"


Evan House: For me it was when the team was meeting Alan Gotcher and getting to know some of the materials scientists when we went to Altair as a battery team to evaluate this specific battery technology. When we started looking at the data and the (inaudible), we realized this was something very special for battery people Altair has historically been a specialty chemical company, a nano company. And Alan Gotcher had the vision to see he might have something special but he brought a group of battery engineers to look at this material and see what it might be useful for.


We realized pretty quickly this could be game-changing.


Ingrid Lobet: How long ago was that?


Evan House: That was only 14 months ago.  We've been a a very rapid ramp up, realizing the potential of this material to bring it to market. That's part of the expertise of this battery team, we're practicing that again.


Ingrid Lobet: Any other aha moments?


Evan House: Well yes, going back more. In a past life at a former job I received the press announcement, probably 6 or 8 months before we met Alan. The press announcement was on the high rate, fast charge, long-life capabilities of this material. One of my sales guys sent me an email and asked me what I thought of this and I said, "oh this is a like a thousand other materials I've seen coming down the pike. It may be special, it's probably hard to make, what they really need is a bunch of guys to go in and develop it for them." And so that was prophetic, that was my first exposure to the material, and then here we are the guys who are developing it now.


Ingrid Lobet: Are other people working on similar lithium ion variations?


Evan House: We've garnered a lot of attention with the work we have been doing, so I suspect other people are looking at this very closely.  But with the previous work and the IP protection we have now, we are several years ahead.


Ingrid Lobet: So looking at it here, it looks like any other battery.


Evan House: It looks like any battery, it acts like any other battery in terms of its voltage and things of that nature. It's really when you stress the battery, on charge and discharge it has very high power. You can take the energy out very quickly and you can put it back in very quickly and the life does not degrade. The nature of the nano lithium titanate, when you take the carbon out, you eliminate all the safety hazards you would encounter in a common lithium battery. Common lithium ion batteries when you put them together like this, then you multiply the possibility of an event, and we've seen them in large format batteries of lithium ion. We don't have that problem anymore. If you did use it in a laptop, you would never have that, because lithium ion titanate gets rid of all those issues.


This is a car battery right here.

There was a real solution in the EV1 days. Other  pressures probably killed that off. One pressure dealt with the battery, the safety, the range. We've met a lot of those issues now, from the battery and the technology perspective. I think we've got a lot of things covered that they didn't have covered then, seven, eight years ago. And of course the political and socal environemnt is really helping us now.


We really need clean technologies. The President talks about our addiction to oil.  We truly have a chance to get off that now.


Ingrid Lobet: Anything else I ought to have asked you?


Evan House: I think there is a lot more to the technology even than meets the eye. We talked about the rapid recharge and the safety and the long itfe, but there are even other attributes, ability to work in extremes of environment. The technology allows for very cold temperatures, as well as very high temperature operation. We really open up, in terms of hybrid tehcnologies, going up to Manitoba and selling into those markets. As well as selling into the hot of summer, into Texas, Florida.


We've shown the ability to operate quite nicely at minus 40 degrees C. Which if you're challenged in that area is also minus 40 degrees F. Something you might encounter in the depths of winter in Minnesota. Somewhere lithium batteries won't operate, somewhere where nickel metal hydride won't operate. We'll do just fine.