We spoke with Altairnano’s former CEO Alan Gotcher back in January when the Reno, Nev.-based battery maker had just inked a $2.5 million deal with the Navy. Two months later Gotcher agreed to resign because the board “determined that the level of progress made at this point in the development timeline of the company did not keep pace with the expectations that were set.” Details are still scant and the company has declined to comment further.
Well, whatever happened, new CEO, former VP of operations Terry Copeland, stepped up to take the reins and spoke with Earth2Tech about where the battery company is headed:
Earth2Tech: What do you think of McCain’s proposed $300 million prize for a breakthrough in automotive battery technology?
Terry Copeland: Well, I think we need to remember it’s just that – a proposal from a candidate. It certainly has some possibilities. But the devil is always in the details. Overall I do think the government has a place to incentivize research in this realm.
E2T: What is Altairnano’s approach to the automotive battery space?
TC: The near-term opportunity for technology such as ours lies more in HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) than EV (electric vehicle). Hybrids require more power, electric vehicles lean more toward energy density.
With the recent run up in gas prices I suspect consumer preferences may shift away from a need to have 100 miles per charge to something less than that. In which case that can open up a huge arena for us. We can provide for cars with smaller energy storage requirements by maintaining power and rapid recharge.
Hybrid buses offer some really good opportunities. They go out on fixed routes and come back to the same place every night where they can recharge. All of the sudden you’re seeing a big increase in ridership of mass transit with gas prices high.
E2T: Is there any discussion about vehicle-to-grid charging for your transit batteries?
TC: That’s where our battery system could offer a significant advantage, since we can charge and discharge rapidly. I had a discussion with some folks in the larger transit vehicle business the other day about this opportunity. With buses you could have significantly larger battery systems. If you ganged 100 buses together and tied them into the grid, if each bus had 100 kilowatt hours of storage, you’ve got a megawatt hour of storage.
E2T: You are working with the utility AES to test a stationary 2 megawatt battery tied to the grid. What is that project’s status and what does the utility-scale battery market look like?
TC: We’re really happy with how that’s going. We were able to fully charge and discharge 2 megawatts from and to the grid in 30 minutes.
We’re in discussion with a number of different people. We’re very optimistic the market is huge. This is a market that is not very well developed. The utilities really aren’t used to having this capability available to them. They have to change the way they are looking at their grid regulation. It’s an education process as well a selling process.
E2T: What does the breakdown of AltairNano’s market look like in the coming year?
TC: We have a near-term opportunity in large stationary power – such as what we’ve done with AES. I think also the larger transit vehicles will move along rapidly, probably a little bit ahead of other automotive uses. That’s not to say those won’t happen. But I think the time line for cars is going to be a little bit longer. I think we’ll see this technology adopted into larger transit vehicles earlier.
We’re focusing near term on the earliest adopters to get some product out in the country and stationary (batteries) will be a big piece of that and hybrid transit will be a big piece and automotive will be there but not at as soon.