ElectriPlast Corp., a unit of publicly held Integral Technologies Inc., has spent the past 15 years developing electrically conductive, hybrid resin materials that combine the ruggedness and conductive properties of metal with the advantages of plastic. Its core, patented material – also dubbed ElectriPlast – provides effective EMI shielding while being both moldable and lightweight. The company says it has formulated more than 80 blends of the compound covering thousands of applications.
In November Integral proclaimed its most recent success, demonstrating a prototype, 12-volt, lead acid bipolar battery made with ElectriPlast plates. The bipolar plate design is based on a plate core made of highly conductive, loaded resins and with metal/lead-covered surfaces. The result? A battery that weighs about half that of the costly lithium ion batteries more commonly used today in electric and hybrid vehicles, according to Integral Technologies President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Bathauer.
One big advantage, in addition to offering the same electrical output despite being a lot smaller in size, is that the moldability of the plastics means the batteries can be made in different shapes and sizes. These characteristics will make the bipolar technology suitable for other uses such as in motorcycles, golf carts and forklifts. And Integral also sees it being applied to stationary uses, such as grid storage and fuel cells for baseload power.
Bathauer, a former charter pilot and financial executive, joined Integral in 2009 and became its CEO in November 2012. In an interview at the NPE show in Orlando last March, he explained that the firm originally was set up as an intellectual property company, with the aim of developing and licensing technology.
“Now,” he said, “we’re acting more like a plastics company. The big change came when we brought engineering into the picture” a few years ago. “We’re not a commodity, we needed electrical knowledge.”
So Integral hired Mohamad “Mo” Zeidan from Tier 1 automotive supplier Lear Corp., where he was chief technology officer for Lear’s Electrical Division. Zeidan became Integral’s CTO, and then in February 2014 the company dipped into Lear’s talent pool again and recruited Slobodan ("Bob") Pavlovic to serve as vice president of engineering at Integral’s Detroit-area technical center in Canton, Mich.
Strategically, Integral also has now aligned itself with bigger partners such as chemicals giant BASF Corp. and molder Delphi Automotive plc, and in March 2015 completed relocating its North American manufacturing from molder Jasper Rubber Products Inc. in Jasper, Ind., to custom compounder and extruder Nova Polymers Inc. about 50 miles away in Evansville, Ind. The move is allowing Integral to scale up production of its ElectriPlast pellets. Bathauer said in early December that Integral is about “halfway there” with its previously announced plan to boost pellet production by tenfold in Evansville. “We’re still short a little tooling,” he acknowledged. Nova also has five additional acres adjacent to the site that it can develop, as demand warrants.
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In its latest news, Integral on Nov. 16 reported via an 8-K filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission that it had entered into an agreement in principle with an unidentified “global manufacturing company” regarding certain exclusive and non-exclusive licensing rights to its existing ElectriPlast technology. Both companies’ boards must still approve the deal, which is why Bathauer could not discuss it in more detail as of Dec. 18. “The agreement would provide [Integral] with a global partner to extend the sales and application development reach of the ElectriPlast technology,” according to the filing.
Integral also is poised to officially move its headquarters from Bellingham, Wash., to Evansville very soon, Bathauer confirmed on Dec. 18.
The firm is active in Asia, as well, with a wholly owned subsidiary called Integral Technologies Asia in Seoul, South Korea, and since fall 2014 it also has partnered with a pair of South Korean companies – compounder Han Wha L&C and injection molder Chang Rim Eng Inc. that are assisting with application development in that region.
Back stateside, Integral has been working closely with Conductive Composites Co. LLC in Heber City, Utah, to ramp up production of nickel-plated carbon-fiber manufacturing capacity. Integral supplied the equipment and Conductive Composites – which works closely with the U.S. Air Force – is using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) to apply precise nickel coatings that make the carbon fibers conductive.
In addition to beefing up its engineering capabilities, two other factors have been key to making ElectriPlast more commercially viable – the automotive industry drive toward lightweighting, and the sharp drop in carbon fiber pricing. “Now we can compete on a cost basis, and certainly on a process basis,” he said.
Integral says ElectriPlast incorporates what it calls Flexible Content Technology, or FCT. This simply means, Bathauer said, “that we can dial conductivity up or down to suit the customer,” usually with conductive material loadings ranging between 5 and 25 percent.
“Our focus now,” he added, “is much more narrowly focused,” in terms of applications and relationships. “We’re taking a rifle shot now, as opposed to the shotgun approach.” After years of investment and development, Bathauer and his team are hoping they’re finally closer to hitting the conductive-plastics bulls-eye.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of two stories looking at the very different approaches that two firms are taking when it comes to developing electrically conductive plastics. The first, published Dec. 13, focused on how tiny research firm Mackinac Polymers has found a way to make plastics conductive without having to go through a compounding process.
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