Events

“Battery venture powers up Scots company”

Published by: The Herald Scotland on December 7, 2009
Written by: Mark Smith

Luichart Technology, a Glasgow-based engineering think-tank and producer of hi-tech prototypes, has struck a joint venture agreement with a contract manufacturer in Pennsylvania that is expected to generate millions of dollars in sales and will see the US firm set up a base in Scotland next year and create 20 jobs.

AmEcosse, the new joint venture between Luichart and the US’s Ashland Technologies, will initially develop and manufacture a revolutionary, new battery to store energy from wind farms and, in a separate enterprise it see long-established Scottish fence maker Lochrin Bain launch a unique, hi-tech security system into the lucrative US market.

Luichiart, which employs eight people and conducts its business unusually from the library of the Glasgow Art Club, has already developed products for Nasa, Boeing and two Formula 1 teams, as well as the energy, aerospace and defence industries from its Scottish headquarters for almost 10 years.

However, Calvin Tan, the company’s founder and chief executive, told The Herald that a key meeting earlier this year with Pennsylvania Congressman Tim Holden had brought about a step change in the company’s fortunes.

“I met with Tim Holden in March,” said Tan. “I meet with a lot of people in the US. About 95% of our business is there. While the idea for Luichart has always been to provide advanced, hi-tech, engineering solutions for the world through Scotland, the US is far more accepting of new ideas.

“After I met with the congressman, I thought I’d never hear from him again. But within four hours there was a phone call and he hooked us up with a contract manufacturing company in his district called Ashland Technologies, and we hit it off. “It was like walking into room and seeing a woman that you know one day will be your wife.”

Ash-Tec, whose range of products include astronaut training simulators, wind turbines and roller coaster cars, and Luichart, which Tan jokes is Gaelic for lateral thinking (in fact, the company is named after Loch Luichart), agreed they should join forces.

Under the AmEcosse joint venture, a range of new hi-tech products will be manufactured both in Scotland and Pennsylvania.

Tan said Ash-Tec was currently looking at potential sites in Cumbernauld and Glenrothes, where it is seeking to establish a small manufacturing base in the first quarter of 2010, within striking distance of the oil industry in Aberdeen.

Tan said: “We do bumble bee technology – in the sense that bumble bees technically shouldn’t be able to fly, but they do.

“We develop ideas to a certain level of technological readiness and then we find partners to take that idea and make it work in the market place. That is precisely what is behind AmEccose partnership.

“Ash-Tec’s facility in Hegins, Pennsylvania is a showcase of how a modern factory should be equipped and operated. Every employee’s opinion is included in the decision making processes. This is the model for the new facility in Scotland.”

One of the projects, backed by a $25m mix of US federal and state funding matched by private investment, involves applying cutting-edge flow battery technology to store up to 10 megawatts of power from windfarms.

Flow battery technology was first developed by Nasa in the1960s and 1970s with the aim of creating an efficient reversible energy storage system with variable capacity.

Tan said: “In essence, the battery is like any other, but without a fixed volume of chemical content to hold the charge.

“Imagine a car battery with no top or bottom. As you generate electricity, uncharged fluid, the electrolyte, is flowed over the electrodes, picking up the power.

“Flow battery technology lets you store this charged fluid until needed.”

However, materials technology in the past meant the full potential of flow batteries could not be realised. High cost, low power densities and a lack of need prevented adoption.

In recent years, interest has been renewed with the advent of windpower, global warming and high oil prices.

Tan said: “Most companies developing flow batteries have concentrated on the chemistry of the electrolyte fluid. The downside of this is electrodes, because they are expensive and prone to mechanical and chemical failure.

“We chose to address the electrode design using our knowledge and capabilities with materials. The result was a hybrid polymer electrode, capable of functioning in any chemistry and a wide envelope of environments.

“We have also addressed the overall design of flow batteries, including control systems and fabrication. It is in this latter area where Ash-Tec’s skill sets come particularly to bear.”

Tan said he expects the project to net more than £100m in sales as it is adapted for 21st century wind power requirements.

Meanwhile, Luichart is applying its expertise in materials to some of Lochrin-Bain’s fencing systems, allowing the Cumbernauld business to offer what Tan describes as a “total security solution” involving sensors and monitoring systems.

Lochrin-Bain will also introduce new ranges of its fencing systems through AmEcosse, allowing it push deeper into the US market.

Tan added: “This is just the beginning. The combined compatible skills of Ash-Tec and Luichart will enable AmEcosse to really make a difference on both side of the Atlantic.”

To view the Herald Scotland article, click here.

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