Guest Interview: Bitrode Corporation
Mike Hall from Energy Storage Journal spoke to Craig Brunk, Director of Sales and Marketing at Bitrode Corporation, who will be exhibiting at The Battery Show 2017. The interview focuses on two major topics: testing and markets and how Bitrode Corporation applies themselves to the key challenges within them.
MH = Mike Hall
CB: We are seeing a broad spectrum of activity within what we would call ‘growth markets‘. The transportation sector is looking at lead-acid developments to 48V for consumer transportation as well as +1,000V advanced-chemistry batteries for off-road and mass-transportation applications. We receive more requests for micro-grid applications (standalone islands, remote/rural locations, etc.); we don’t see a lot of test equipment activity for applications of grid peak storage or frequency regulation. Another area that we see growth in is the repurposing of used EV/EHV batteries. There is still a lot of life in EV/EHV batteries after they are no longer ideal for transportation use.
MH: In terms of geographical location, where do you think will be the new hot spots for testing?
CB: In the last 12 months we have seen a great amount of activity in China and India. Although the North American market remains a stronghold in R&D of lead-acid and advanced-chemistry batteries, the Indian and Asian markets are leaning heavily on equipment for the testing of advanced-chemistry batteries.
MH: Will Brazil be the next Shenzhen?
CB: We do see activity in Brazil and we are always hoping for growth in the South American market, but the volatility of the Brazilian market seems to change even within the timespan between when we quote a project and the expected PO date.
MH: In terms of the technological advances in testing, what areas do you think are going to be the most exciting: greater precision, greater predictability for lower cycling, totally new products and the like?
CB: Customers continue to ask for faster and more accurate test equipment. There is a ‘spec war‘ going on globally. R&D lab equipment being used for material research requires high levels of resolution and accuracy. There is always an economic tradeoff between cost and requirement. I believe that all test equipment suppliers are working to understand this now.
MH: Where do you see Bitrode as part of this?
CB: We take pride in our reliability and the ability to prove what we put on our spec sheets. Our R&D department is constantly being challenged to meet the escalating requirements of our customers and not take short cuts. We are in development of three or four new product platforms that we believe will give customers the value they expect from Bitrode testers and meet their high demands for precision and reliability.
MH: What are your thoughts on new forms of potential secondary batteries, e.g. lithium-air, magnesium?
CB: Bitrode’s product line is chemistry neutral; we build testers for cell testing, module testing and pack testing. Our R&D lab and university customers don’t typically disclose their proprietary development programs and proprietary test algorithms. Our Windows-based VisuaLCN software is fully capable and easily programmable by users to develop test profiles for each variation of battery chemistry.
MH: How do you think the testing industry will evolve in the years to come?
CB: At the end of the day, customers want to work with suppliers that have experience in the industry, a track record of proven results and responsiveness to requests for equipment flexibility, technology, service and performance. Natural selection will eliminate those that can’t meet these requirements.
MH: Will it consolidate?
CB: Possibly. Digatron and Firing Circuits merged in 1988. Sovema purchased Bitrode in 2008. It’s been quite a while since a merger or acquisition has taken place.
MH: Will the industry become more specialized?
CB: Power electronics are the heart of battery testing equipment. If anything, I would see expansion of our company, and our competitors expanding into adjacent markets that use power electronics.
MH: Will the industry even become more collaborative (as per your CSZ and A&D venture with GM)?
CB: Collaboration and integration are becoming more and more common. Bitrode has partnered with Gamry for integration of EIS (electrochemical impedance spectroscopy) capabilities, and we have integrated with many environmental chamber suppliers for turnkey installations. We have also been approached about providing complete turnkey test room facilities. Many customers will be looking at one-stop shopping in the future.
MH: Has development in lead battery testing more or less reached an end game if lead batteries can’t be used meaningfully in HRPSoC applications?
CB: Lead-acid batteries have always been the workhorses of the energy storage market. We believe that our lead-acid customers continue to provide innovative products for future needs. 48V automotive batteries for micro-hybrid vehicles are a prime example of continued R&D and investment in lead-acid technology.
MH: How do you see the automotive and energy storage markets of the future developing?
CB: One thing we know for sure: the need for energy storage will continue to grow in the future. The wildcards are always weight, safety, cycles, power density and cost.
MH: What sort of timeline do you see developing?
CB: It’s happening now. The automotive industry has created media frenzy with Tesla, Google and Apple automotive developments. Their auto development is very visible to the common consumer. It appears that the automotive industry is a leader in electrification and the need for energy storage. What consumers don’t read about in USA Today is the developers of non-traditional energy generators and the storage of this generated energy. Growth and development are happening simultaneously in the automotive and grid storage industries – it’s only that the automotive industry is getting the byline.
MH: When do you see lithium-ion becoming the major battery chemistry in grid and automotive markets?
CB: As soon as price and power density meet the needs of the consumer. Perhaps it won’t be lithium-ion technology that will be the final chemistry that gets us to the needed cost/benefit ratio, but it appears to be a great technology that we are all learning from and could take us to that next battery chemistry.
MH: Will price be the major consideration?
CB: Yes. Most of us have a fixed budget to live on. Until electrification and battery storage costs reach a level that the consumer is willing to pay and see a net benefit of, we will continue to use natural resource power (oil, natural gas, coal, etc.) and nuclear power to supply our power needs.
MH: What worries you most about the evolution of today’s large-scale storage markets?
CB: The evolution is not fast enough for us in the battery industry. We all would like to see additional R&D dollars granted over the next 5-10 years to help us break dependence on ‘non-green‘ energy generation and the storage of this new energy.
Bitrode Corporation will be exhibiting at The Battery Show 2017 at booth #1601
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