Maria Zilberman//Daily Record Business Writer//February 12, 2012
//Daily Record Business Writer
//February 12, 2012
A Maryland company has received national recognition for its work in developing fast-charging, high-powered batteries that use cutting-edge nanotechnology.
Vorbeck Materials Corp. of Jessup was one of three winners of the U.S. Department of Energy’s “America’s Next Top Energy Innovator Challenge,” an online competition for startup companies.
The competition was open to companies that partner with one of the DOE’s 17 national laboratories. The DOE on Friday announced the three winners, which were selected based on a combination of online voting and expert review.
Voters could watch a video and read a summary statement about each company and its product.
“The expert review looked at a number of factors, including potential job creation, competitive advantage, and alignment with the Department of Energy’s mission,” said Keri Fulton, spokeswoman for the DOE.
Vorbeck works with the DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Princeton University to create lithium-ion batteries using patented graphene technology.
Graphene is the world’s thinnest and strongest material, and conducts electricity as well as copper, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The two scientists who in 2004 first isolated the material were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Batteries made with the material can charge smartphones and similar consumer electronic devices in about 10 minutes and increase the range of an electric car battery by four times, according to the company.
“I think people watching the video could see what that would mean for their lives,” said Kristen Silverberg, chief operating officer at Vorbeck.
Vorbeck, along with the other two winners, will be featured at this year’s ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, an annual gathering of clean energy investors and innovators, in Washington, D.C., this month.
“I think it’ll help give us some exposure, especially to commercial partners who otherwise might not know about Vorbeck’s work,” Silverberg said.
The company, which was founded in 2006, has about 20 employees and develops products using its patented “Vor-x” graphene technology. In 2007, it opened its manufacturing facility in Jessup and in 2009 launched the world’s first commercial graphene-based product, a conductive ink called Vor-ink.
“We’ve worked rapidly to try to take this technology that just entered the scientific space a few years ago and rapidly transition it into products that meet the needs of the real world,” said Christy Martin, director of development at Vorbeck.
One application of the ink is through conductive circuits that can be printed directly onto packages and operate as anti-theft devices, Silverberg said.
The commercialization of Vor-ink likely contributed to the company’s success in the contest, she said.
“Graphene is an area that is growing, and there’s growing excitement and attention,” she said. “We have a record of taking innovative technologies all the way to market.”
Vorbeck is partnering with Pocomoke City-based Hardwire LLC to integrate its batteries into hybrid military vehicles. The company is also working to integrate the batteries into toy and tool technology.
“Even the process of just participating in the competition has brought a lot of attention to the company,” said Silverberg, who hopes Vorbeck’s batteries will be commercially available sometime next year.
Silverberg declined to say how much the development of the battery technology has cost.
In 2009, the company received “$5.1 million in a Series 2 financing led by Stoneham Partners, a private investment firm, with contributions from the Maryland Department for Business and Economic Development and a syndicate of individual investors,” according to the company’s website.
Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies Inc., which works with titanium powder technology, and Umpqua Energy Inc., an Oregon-based company that is developing a technology to make gasoline engines more efficient, were the other winners of the challenge.