November 28, 2016: Batteries International interviewed Craig Brunk, sales director at Bitrode for his take on the current state of the testing market and the direction it’ll go in the next few years.
Testing times as new generation of energy storage products appears
What do you think are going to be the most interesting markets for testing in the coming years?
We are seeing a broad spectrum of activity within what we we’d call growth markets.
The transportation sector is looking at lead acid developments to 48 volts for consumer transportation as well as 1000+ volts for advanced chemistry batteries for off-road and mass transportation applications.
We receive more requests for micro-grid applications — standalone islands, remote/rural locations, and the like — at this time, but we don’t see a lot of test equipment activity for applications relating to grid peak storage or frequency regulation.
Another area that we see growth in is in the re-purposing 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.
And in terms of geographical location, where do you think will be the new hot spots for testing?
In the past 12 months we have seen a great amount of activity from China and in India. While the North American market still remains as a stronghold in R&D of both lead acid and advanced chemistry batteries, the Indian and Asian markets are leaning heavily on equipment for the testing of advanced chemistries.
Will Brazil be the next Shenzhen?
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 time taken from when we quote a project and the expected PO [purchase order] date.
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? Or all?
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 level of resolution and accuracy.
There is always the economic trade-off between cost and requirement.
I believe that all test equipment suppliers are working to understand this now.
Where do you see Bitrode as part of this?
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 to four new product platforms that we believe will give customer’s the value they expect from Bitrode testers and meet their high demands for precision and reliability.
What are your thoughts on new forms of potential secondary batteries such as lithium air, magnesium ion …
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.
How do you think the testing industry will evolve in the years to come?
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.
Will the industry consolidate?
That’s a maybe! 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. Perhaps 2018 will be the next year for change? (laughs!)
Become more specialized?
Power electronics are the heart of battery testing equipment. If anything, I would see expansion of our company and our competitors expanding into adjacent space markets that use power electronics.
Or will the industry become more collaborative as per some of your collaborations with GM?
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.
Has development in lead battery testing more or less reached an end game if lead batteries can’t be used meaningfully in HRPSoC applications?
Lead acid batteries have always been the workhorse of the energy storage market. We believe that our lead acid customers continue to provide innovative products for future needs — 48V automotive batteries for the micro-hybrid vehicles are a prime example of continued R&D and investment in lead acid technology.
How do you see the automotive and energy storage markets of the future developing? And what kind of pace will that be?
One thing we know for sure, the need for energy storage will grow and grow in the future. The wildcards are always weight, safety, cycles, power density, cost (… and cost!).
In terms of pace, it’s happening now! The automotive industry has created a media frenzy with automotive developments from Tesla, Google and Apple. Their development is highly visible to the consumer in the street.
The automotive sector has become a leader in electrification and the need for energy storage.
What consumers don’t read about in USA Today is about the developers of non-traditional energy generators and the storage of this generated energy.
Growth and development is happening simultaneously in the automotive and grid storage industries, it’s only that the automotive industry is getting the byline.
When — or if — do you see lithium ion becoming the major battery chemistry in grid or automotive markets?
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.
Will it be price as the major consideration?
Yes. For the most we all have a fixed budget to live on. Until electrification and battery storage costs reach a level that the consumer is willing to pay for and see a net benefit of, we will continue to use power from natural resources power such as oil, gas, coal and the like as well as nuclear power in supplying our power needs.
What worries you most about the evolution of today’s large scale storage markets?
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 five to 10 years to help us break dependence on non-green energy generation and the storage of distributed energy.