Man makes building better batteries his business
by Staff Writer
DAVIDSON – Martin Koebler, of Davidson, began experimenting with lithium batteries in 1990, when he built a solar car to race across Australia.
Since then, Koebler has been working to find ways lithium batteries can replace traditional car batteries and gas generators.
The electrical engineer has worked as a consultant on projects like the new electric Ford Focus, for which he designed five prototype batteries. He has also worked with the creator of the Segway.
But now, with his own company Stark Power, Koebler is creating small lithium batteries for motorcycles and ATVs, and batteries built for energy storage.
The small lithium batteries for motorcycles took about a year and a half to develop, are a fraction of the size of traditional batteries and have a much longer lifespan.
“It’s also more environmentally friendly because it’s made with no heavy metals,” he said.
Koebler’s other big project is an energy storage case that contains lithium cells and plates that act as a battery and a generator.
“I have a smaller case I created for a military client that is connected to run the communication equipment and reduces the use of gas generators,” Koebler said.
Brian Richardson, an attorney and sheep farmer in Virginia, knows first-hand what a huge difference Koebler’s battery storage packs make in performance.
A few years ago, Richardson decided to build an electric motorcycle and race it in some of the biggest races in the country.
When building the bike, Richardson said he was looking for an East Coast developer he could work closely with and that’s when he met Koebler.
The two worked together with a small team and built the bike they entered into a worldwide competition called TTXGP, the leading event for electric motorcycle racing.
Richardson said Koebler’s battery pack was the perfect fit and contributed in them ranking second nationally in 2011.
“And we held the land speed record for the East Coast in 2011,” Richardson said.
It helped they had a seasoned rider, but he said the magic was in the quality batteries.
“The point in our racing program is to take things and push as far as we can push and in two years we’ve never touched the batteries,” Richardson said. “They’ve never come out of balance. They’re as perfect as the day we put them in the bike. And we’re discharging them extremely rapidly, charging rapidly.”
He said last year in California, due to a problem with the motor, the bike crashed at about 100 mph. The bike was in shambles.
“But we got it back into the pit, put on new handle bars, new foot pegs, a lot of duct tape, and when race time came, we took the bike back on the track and took second in the race,” Richardson said. “There was no damage to the battery and we kept racing all year.”
Having proved his smaller storage packs work, Koebler began working on a larger product, about the size of a suitcase, for fire trucks. His prototypes are now being tested by a fire truck manufacturer in Minnesota and were recently tested on the ground during the recent Colorado wildfires.
These batteries and cases, while large in size, still weigh significantly less than traditional batteries, Koebler said, and they provide extended life to whatever they’re plugged into.
For fire trucks, this is a big deal, Koebler explained.
He said with this battery case, the trucks can actually turn off during house calls, saving gas, while keeping their lights and communication equipment operational.
“A traditional battery would last them 30 minutes. This will last them up to four hours,” Koebler said. “So it gives them more time to do their work, turn off the engine and save fuel, which is about two gallons an hour on those diesel trucks. So that’s a huge saving for the communities.”
Koebler, who studied at the University of California Berkley and Stanford, actually went to high school in Spartanburg, S.C., which is why after working in the tech industry in California he decided to venture back to the Carolinas.
His company is still small, though, and runs mainly as a one-man show, but he said he does have about four or five consultants he regularly works with.
For more information on Stark Power, visit his website at www.starkpower.com or call 704-804-4464.