MADE IN TOMPKINS: PRIMET PLANS TO GIVE ELECTRIC VEHICLES A BOOST
ITHACA JOURNAL, FEBRUARY 2012
By Aaron Munzer Correspondent
In the next few decades, Larry Thomas believes, every car sold in the United States will need hybrid electric power and advanced battery technology in order to meet federal mileage requirements.
“With the standards for fuel economy going where they’re going, basically every vehicle in the country will be a hybrid in some way,” he said recently in his office at the company he heads as CEO, Primet Precision Materials of Ithaca.
Thomas believes Primet has a major role to play in the transition, and could help usher in the new era with its unique nano particle material refining process.
Primet’s founder, Robert Dobbs, now the company’s chief technology officer, developed the patented technological process, called NanoScission, that reduces metals to precise particle sizes more affordably. This can help manufacturers produce more batteries for the electric vehicle industry at the lowest cost, Thomas said.
Hybrid cars utilizing electric motors need advanced battery technology to handle the energy demands of accelerating and braking quickly. For now, this means using expensive lithium-ion batteries, which are expensive to produce because of the materials involved.
“We believe we’ve found the lowest-cost way of making those materials,” he said.
The company, founded in 2004 by Dobbs, has grown over the years to a staff of 35 employees, from materials scientists and physicists to machine operators and analysts. In the spring of 2011, the company was awarded a $2.1 million research-and-development contract with the Department of Defense to demonstrate how its technology can improve military applications.
At the facility at the South Hill Business Campus, the company produces only pounds of battery materials at present, mostly for testing, with an array of different machines that process the metals in different ways, and a lab for creating small batteries called “coin cells” that Primet engineers then test for their long-term strength and performance.
Now, Thomas said, it’s been an uphill battle to convince battery manufacturing companies such as Dow, LG and 3M to license Primet’s technology for use in their battery assembly lines, most of which also have in-house efforts under way to realize more affordable techniques. The effort sees Thomas travel the world with his sales pitch, from Germany to Japan.
“I know in my bones the the industry will adopt our technique,” he said. “Eventually we’ll produce the material, maybe, but more likely is that we’ll partner with a bigger company and either license our technology or create a joint venture.”
Thomas said the company has been helped by the proximity to both Cornell University and Binghamton University, both of which are Energy Frontier Research Centers, funded by the Department of Energy for battery research, and have given the company access to state-of-the-art technology for their work.
Company engineer Archit Lal first came to Primet in 2004, and said he has remained because he believes in the company’s technology.
“I don’t see cost competitiveness in other processes,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think so.”