LSU Innovation Park Company Leads the Charge in Innovative Warfighter Technology
BATON ROUGE – Today’s battlefield is more energy intense than ever before, forcing warfighters to carry an ever-increasing amount of batteries – at great logistical and financial cost. Carver Scientific Inc., or CSi, located at the LSU Innovation Park in Baton Rouge, has promising new technology to meet this challenge. While its primary focus is on developing cutting-edge energy storage technology, the company is developing a microclimate heating and cooling, or MCHC, device for dismounted warfighters under a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, Phase II Award.
The objective of this 27-month effort from March 2017 through June 2019 is to develop a highly mobile, self-contained and integrated MCHC device for dismounted operator-use that integrates with a self-contained lightweight modular power source capable of powering the MCHC for a typical 72-hour mission.
CSi, a certified HUBZone, is an energy technology company focused on developing transformative energy storage technologies. It moved to the LSU Innovation Park in 2012 because of the unique state Research & Development Marketable Tax Credit Program, developed through Louisiana Economic Development and others.
“That really helped,” said David Carver, chief scientist and co-founder. “We used that money to buy a lot of our equipment. It made a real difference – a shot in the arm right when we needed it.”
The company now has significant Intellectual Property protection with over 100 domestic and international patents and patent applications.
“We really are an energy technology development company,” said Ritchie Priddy, business development director and principal investigator of this effort.
Priddy has been involved with energy technologies, particularly distributed energy and demand side management for more than 30 years. He describes the project as developing two products under one SBIR Phase II.
“The logistical chain has become the tail wagging the dog, and that doesn’t take into account the physical toll on the warfighters,” Priddy said.
The dramatic weight increase and resulting issues has led to an emphasis on lightening the Warfighter’s load.
“This effort is an extension of an earlier micro-climate cooling that I began in 2006 under a different company structure through a Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, Phase I SBIR,” Priddy said. “That effort did not result in a Phase II award at the time, though we proved feasibility of the technology. The Achilles heel was the cooler’s power draw…it was too high. We were married to military batteries under that contract, and none could provide the energy density we needed for mission duration. They still can’t.”
Priddy said that studies have shown that for a typical 72-hour mission, which is considered standard mission duration now, an infantry platoon consisting of 30 soldiers, carries about 400 pounds of batteries or some kind of energy storage technology to power their equipment. That equals about 13 pounds of batteries per soldier. A 2014 NATO report found that a continuous power requirement of 20 watts over 72 hours is needed.
“That means the emphasis on batteries is shifting to higher energy densities per pound of battery,” Priddy said. “That means fewer and lighter batteries. In addition, just as important, safety, clean raw materials, a domestic source, cost and better energy management have become very important as well. Size, weight, power and cost, or SWaP-C, – we have to make it as small and efficient as possible, and still provide a measureable benefit – at the right price.”
The dangers of heat and cold stress on warfighters exposed to extreme temperatures remains very real. Warming or cooling a warfighter is still considered a luxury, and there are written needs for such technology. Nevertheless, developing better energy storage technologies for the battlefield is an urgent need. Both have significant market potential for the civilian world as well.
“I knew there was a great need for micro-climate cooling and heating, as heat stress and cold stress are still serious issues for those working outdoors. So, we either had to dumb down the original effort and reduce the energy draw, or find alternative energy devices,” he said.
Priddy ended up doing both.
“Under this Phase II award [CSi] developed new and more efficient heating and cooling capabilities. There is no doubt that a good-sized market exists for the MCHC. But, the much larger market and more urgent needs lies in the energy storage,” he said.
The latest version of the MCHC weighs about 18 ounces. The civilian version is currently powered by commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, USB batteries, and uses about 6 watts. The company is developing a PTC heater to meet the heating requirement.
“We’ll eventually integrate it with our own energy storage, but that’s still a ways off. The CSi energy storage contains no hazardous metals, does not pose any thermal runaway issues and is made up entirely of clean, domestic raw materials,” he said.
The company’s ultimate objective is to develop a dual use, stand-alone, man-wearable energy storage device capable of integration, scalability and commonality across multiple energy consuming devices and power managing technologies. The device will assist in meeting multiple Joint Warfighter Challenges, including Reduction of Soldier Loads, which will enhance individual and small unit mobility. Successful development as a stand-alone energy storage device will provide significant progress towards the Dismounted Power Goal, with its 72-hour mission requirement. Specifically, the device will contribute to solving challenges related to that goal by: 1) reducing the number and overall weight of batteries; 2) increasing power/energy densities; 3) provide safer operation; 4) provide commonality; 5) integration with power management/distribution systems; 6) scalability; 7) multiple form factors; 8) help meet SWAP-C requirements; 9) remove domestic supply concerns; and 10) provide adaptability to future capabilities.
SBIR played a critical role in CSi’s success as it has for numerous small technology companies in Louisiana for more than 20 years.
“I never gave up on the dream of developing a cooler for the military, and working with the LBTC proved to be the key,” he said.
Roy Keller, LBTC associate director advised Priddy and introduced him to Richard Flake, a U.S. Department of Defense SBIR consultant, who informed them that they could go back 10 years and apply for a Phase II award under the original contract.
“Fast forward a few years and I’m still looking for alternative energy storage when I get a call from Roy (Keller) telling me that he had a new client at the research park, which was working on energy storage. He arranged for me to meet with Carver, and it was a great match,” he said.
Priddy started working for them part-time, but came on full-time in 2013 as Business Development Director.
“I knew there was still a need for micro-climate cooling and heating, not only in the military but in the commercial or industrial world as well,” he said.
Once the path was set, Priddy novated his cooling technology to CSi, added the energy storage development effort and applied for a Phase II award.
“We just had to find the right DoD component, and more importantly, the right person within that component to take it forward,” he said.
Flake, who served as the commercialization officer for AFRL before he retired, found the right person within AFRL in Dayton, Ohio. The result was a Phase II SBIR award with multiple modifications and additional money.
The future certainly looks bright for CSi. The company has demonstrated the MCHC to various types of end-users, including the Louisiana National Guard, Baton Rouge Police Department, Ohio Special Response team and others. CSi has participated in a number of DoD and joint DoD-DHS activities.
“The big market is the industrial and first responder market, but it can benefit anyone who works in extreme environments. In addition, AFRL will begin a form/fit exercise to determine the optimum locations to place the blower, and the company is preparing for their final delivery of the MCHC in April 2019,” he said.
CSi is seeking two other DoD contracts to complete the development of both technologies, and is aiming to enter the commercial market or the MCHC next summer.
Contact Alison Satake
LSU Media Relations
Louisiana Business & Technology Center