, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

August 18, 2012

Frontier Electronics charges into lithium battery revolution

— STILLWATER — The quest for a better battery starts here.

Engineers at Stillwater-based Frontier Electronic Systems and University of Tulsa researchers are developing the next generation of lithium ion battery that promises to be safer, smaller and more powerful.

Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are used in cellphones, laptop computers, medical devices, electric cars and even the international space station.

Lithium ion batteries have drawbacks.

Lithium, a lightweight metal, is highly flammable. Lithium ion batteries were recalled in 2006 because of potential for explosions or fires. Lithium ion batteries only last two or three years from the date of manufacture and need an on-board computer to manage the battery, which is ruined if it ever completely discharges.

Battery technology hasn’t advanced since Sony commercialized the lithium ion battery in 1991. Since 1991, cell phones, laptops and other devices do more things and use more energy.

“Better technology just hasn’t kept up with the pace, quite frankly. You really would like your battery to last longer in your laptop and your cell phone. You would like to be able to charge them faster. It’s a real limiting factor in many of those autonomous devices that have self-contained power supplies,” University of Tulsa professor Dale Teeters said. Teeters is head of the TU chemistry and biochemistry program. He has been researching battery technology for more than 29 years, and started applying nano-technology to batteries about a dozen years ago.

Nano-technology can be defined as engineering at a very small scale — the level of atoms and molecules.

Under his guidance, TU has developed a nano-material that will improve lithium ion battery performance. It helps the battery charge faster, perform longer and hold more power.

“That’s what we have been doing at the University of Tulsa for the last few years, trying to improve battery performance by bringing in nano-technology,” he said.

Frontier Electronic Systems entered the picture about two years ago.

Engineers Lloyd Salsman and Ed Shreve knew of Teeters’ research and approached him about turning research into reality.

 “We have some fundamental discoveries that we have made which help in battery technology,” Teeters said. “It takes somebody to figure out how to bring those up to the real world, and that’s no small feat when you’re dealing with things on the nanometer scale — doing engineering and development there.”

UT’s technology creates a nanometer sheet of lithium. It must be folded thousands of times to make a battery. Frontier Electronic Systems engineers are working to create the nano-lithium material in a manufacturing environment. They must be able to make enough of it to make batteries.

Last month, the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology awarded $500,000 to Frontier Electronic Systems for the “Development of Nano Batteries for Medical Applications.”

Frontier Electronic Systems will continue its collaboration with TU and adds a new partner VADovations on a three-year project to develop and commercialize a high performance lithium battery that can power VADovations implantable blood pump.

Frontier Electronic Systems has committed more than $500,000 of its research and development budget to match the OCAST award, Frontier Electronic Systems President/CEO Brenda Rolls said.

Frontier Electronic Systems started a new technology initiative in 2009, Rolls said. “We believe our long-term viability and potential for growth needs to be fueled by technological advancements and adding product offerings and technical capabilities to our customers,” she said.

The company has a long history of power-control electronics, she said.

“We didn’t start the technology effort thinking we will get money from OCAST,” she said. “We started pursuing what kind of technology areas we wanted to move into.”

TU’s nano-lithium material has incredible potential, Rolls said. “It is unique and different from any other research that we are aware of,” she said.

“It’s revolutionary technology,” Rolls said.

The nano-material battery has a wide-range of potential applications, Salsman said. It ranges from cellphones, laptops and cars to military and aerospace.

Frontier Electronics will look for military and space applications for the nano-material battery because of the company’s defense and aerospace contracts, Salsman said.

Chris Day is associate editor for the Stillwater NewsPress.

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