|Background & History|
Firefly’s revolutionary battery technology was born in the Research and Development laboratory of Caterpillar, Inc., a world-renowned manufacturer of heavy equipment. Like any good company, Caterpillar spends a substantial amount of revenue looking for ways to improve its products.
Caterpillar has long been a consumer of batteries for its many heavy equipment products. These, products/equipment, by their very nature, put a severe strain on batteries. Heat and cold extremes, severe vibration, and prolonged periods of disuse between jobs all go with the territory for heavy equipment batteries. CAT has always set tough standards for the batteries supplied with their products, and in the late 1990's decided to put its own brand name on these sourced products. After a time, Caterpillar began experiencing higher-than-normal customer complaints from the field. Further investigation revealed that although the batteries’ quality and performance hadn’t eroded, the customers’ expectations were heightened by the Caterpillar branding!
With a new corporate focus on improving batteries, CAT electronics turned the issue over to their R&D arm. Kurt Kelley (now Firefly’s Chief Technology Officer) was given the task of addressing the two main failure modes of a lead acid battery: Short life caused by corrosion (of the battery’s positive plate) and sulfation (of the battery’s negative plate). In short, Kelley’s task was, first of all, to find a corrosion-resistant material that could take the place of much of the lead within a traditional battery and secondly, to take advantage of the material’s properties to configure it in such a way that the battery’s energy-producing chemistry could be harnessed in a more efficient manner.
In microcell composite foam, Kelley found a material that fulfilled both requirements. Through lengthy research, he was able to configure the material in such a way that it not only survived in the harsh lead acid chemistry, but actually thrived.
This begs the question as to why such an important discovery was made by Caterpillar and not by a company directly involved in the battery industry. It’s interesting to note that the previous major advancement in the lead acid battery industry was the valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) battery. This invention was created, not by a battery manufacturing company, but by a rubber hose and belt company – Gates. The parallel is clear; smart materials scientists with the backing of major corporations, unconstrained by traditional mental roadblocks and preconceptions of how to design and optimize a battery!
Upon becoming convinced of the potential of this new concept, Caterpillar executive management decided in 2003 to provide seed funding for a separate business solely dedicated to the new technology. Firefly Energy was born!