The Herald Bulletin

June 15, 2013

Madison County a high-tech hub

By Baylee Pulliam
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Did you know there’s futuristic, Star Trek-style tech gear being built right here in Madison County?

Producing everything from lasers to software, fuel efficient cars to advanced germ fighters, the county is home to innovative problem-solvers and tech gurus, many drawn from the long local history with manufacturing, engineering and technology.

“This area is still a repository for some very gifted people in electrical and mechanical engineering,” many of whom have trickled into the companies at the Flagship Enterprise Center and business park, said CEO Chuck Staley. “Several of them are on our board and serve as mentors and guides to many young companies.”

The five-building, nearly 300,000-square-foot Flagship exists, “to be a premier technology based business center, creating, growing and attracting jobs, and contributing to the long-term economic development,” he said, for the city, county and all of Indiana. And, in many cases, that means big flashy, high-tech gadgets that might fit aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Whether through its micro-loan program or business incubation, Flagship has played at least a small part in the development of everything from software to military defense technology, such as Coeus Technology’s Monofoil, a high-tech anti-microbial that prevents the reproduction of icky things like staph, E. coli, MRSA, H1N1, fungi and black mold.

“While we do not require our companies to be technology driven, many are,” Staley said. “Our sweet spot is, and always has been, power electronics, energy storage, advanced manufacturing, software development/consulting and electrical engineering.” For example:

Boosting fuel economy

In the green-tech vein is EchoDrive, developed by Echo Automotive, whose automotive battery and electric vehicle technology development occupies Bright Automotive’s old space at Flagship.

The aftermarket, bolt-on EchoDrive converts fleet vehicles, notably the Ford 250 van, into plug-in electric hybrids, enabling them to travel up to 100 miles per six- to eight-hour charge. The “revolutionary cost-reduction platform,” Staley said, was hailed by the National Truck Equipment Association as “Most Innovative Product” earlier this year.

The batteries run around $10,000 to $12,000, which is perhaps a savings compared to some current compact car battery packs that begin at $12,000 to $15,000. Charging the Echo battery at an electricity cost of 75 cents is comparable to paying $4 for a gallon of gas, said Jason Plotke, Echo president and co-founder.

He said it’s not an anomaly the futuristic auto-technology has found a home here in Madison County.

“Echo is culminating decades of progress which has early roots in Indiana in (vehicle) electrification and battery development,” he said. For example, Bright Automotive’s intellectual property, patents, engineering data and several fully-developed prototype vehicles, which Echo bought in April.

“Taking electric motors, which have been a large part of Indiana’s heritage, and applying that power into an existing drivetrain to generate efficiency, is the premise for EchoDrive,” he said.

Supercharged batteries

A little further back in the business park is Nevada-based Altair Nanotechnologies, Inc., which moved to Anderson in 2005 and now occupies 70,000 square feet in Flagship Energy Systems Facility.

Altair’s latest project is a high-power, safer, longer-lasting battery on steroids.

The advanced lithium-ion batteries “are a very sophisticated product,” said systems product engineering director Brad Hanauer. For example, he said, it offers both quick charge and discharge and is considerably more stable than many high-capacity batteries, capable of operating between minus 40 degrees and plus 55 degrees Celsius.

Altairnano’s working on “building the (lithium ion) chemistry into different modules to serve different markets,” he said, one of which is transportation. Case in point is the Proterra, Inc. zero-emission EcoRide EV commuter bus, each of which uses 48 to 64 Altair battery modules and runs between one and three hours per 10-minute rapid charge.

In May the bus, billed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as the “bus of tomorrow,” stopped in Anderson. Altair Vice President and general manager of U.S. operations, Michael Canada, said it’s “definitely an emerging technology and we’re very excited to see this happening in Anderson.”

The battery modules also have applications for industrial — think elevators and mining trucks — and grid operations, where the modules can help make renewable energy more available and help avoid intermittent power shortages when wind stops moving a turbine or clouds block a solar array.

By the way, some of the software that helps avoid those shortages — and excess power, when the turbines are going gangbusters — was also developed at Flagship, by Integrated Dynamics, Inc., which has been in Madison County since the 1990s.

For grid use, up to 3,000 individual battery cells are packed into a trailer, designed and produce in Madison County. Those trailers can store up to 1.2 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 1,200 houses.

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