LI manufacturer powers up Army battery production

Versatile: Known primarily as vehicular starters, lithium-ion batteries boast a multitude of potential uses, according to Commack's Bren-Tronics.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A longtime Long Island manufacturer will step up production of “advanced military batteries” for the U.S. Army, in a big way.

Commack-based energy solutions expert Bren-Tronics Inc. has received a $6.2 million contract from U.S. Army Contracting Command involving the 44-year-old manufacturer’s military-grade, 24-volt “6T Li-Ion” batteries.

The multi-year deal comes through the National Advanced Mobility Consortium, an alliance of traditional and nontraditional small businesses, large defense contractors, academic institutions and other research organizations focused on the development of new ground-vehicle and robotics technologies.

Since 2015, Bren-Tronics – which is headquartered in Suffolk County but maintains operations in France and the UK – has manufactured two versions of its 24-volt lithium-ion battery, “one optimized for high power and the other for high energy,” according to a company statement, and has delivered roughly 500 units to Department of Defense and commercial customers around the globe.

Under the new contract, Bren‑Tronics will “mature the existing Li-Ion 6T battery design and manufacturing processes to create mass-production capabilities at its Commack facilities,” the company said, with “high-volume automated manufacturing” processes eventually rolling out some 2,000 batteries per month.

At least, that’s the goal, according to Vice President Doug Petito, Bren-Tronics’ head of sales and marketing, who said the program – involving a combination of existing and new manufacturing technologies – will start slower and work its way up to that ambitious 2,000-per-month plateau.

“We’re going to bring forward new automation in the manufacturing process that helps us build volume,” Petito told Innovate LI. “We’re going to leverage technologies we’ve used before and extend them out to this product line.”

The “6T” designation refers to a NATO Standardized Form Factor. While 6T batteries are the most prominent form of batteries for military vehicles – “used in approximately 95 percent of Army tactical ground-vehicle platforms,” according to Petito – lithium-ion batteries boast a multitude of potential uses, from vehicles to weapons systems to ground-station power plants.

Doug Petito: Safety first.

Bren-Tronics’ Li-Ion 6T batteries provide twice the energy (in fact, “the highest energy capacity of any 6T battery available in the U.S.,” according to the company) at less than half the weight of traditional lead-acid 6T batteries. They are designed to be a “drop-in replacement” for those older models, which are “challenged to meet today’s military power requirements,” according to Petito.

“The conventional lead-acid 6T battery solution will not achieve the Army’s next-generation power demands,” the VP noted. “This contract … validates the long-term need and the U.S. Army’s commitment to this new technology.”

While the contract, which Petito dubbed a “nice deal,” focuses on the U.S. Army – and Bren-Tronics has primarily supplied batteries and other microgrid power applications to military clients – the new manufacturing protocols will allow the company to focus on growing its commercial clientele, according to the sales chief.

“We do have commercial interests and we will look to grow them as well,” Petito said.

And while safety is always a challenge when it comes to charging lithium ion cells – lithium-battery technology actually dates back to 1912, but the inherent instability of lithium metal and other concerns hindered development for decades – Bren-Tronics has no worries about mixing old and new manufacturing tech to dramatically increase production of its Li-Ion 6Ts, as per the new contract, according to Petito.

“It’s safe,” he said. “So long as you as you know what you’re doing.”