A123 acquisition puts a charge into Navitas Systems’ future

NOTE: This first appeared in the Feb. 18 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

A recent acquisition has powered up Woodridge-based Navitas Systems’ business in a big way.
The company, formerly known as MicroSun Innovative Energy Storage Solutions, completed its $2.2 million acquisition of lithium-ion battery developer A123 Systems based in Waltham, Mass. A123, a supplier of lithium ion battery technology to commercial and consumer markets, went into bankruptcy last October and a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge awarded the company’s defense and government businesses to Navitas Systems.
Navitas’ part of the deal includes all of A123’s government contracts, as well as a research and development facility in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Navitas Systems develops and markets large format battery and energy management systems for commercial, industrial and government agencies.
While the government contracts are a nice addition to the business, the research facility and its staff are the real diamonds in the buy, according to Samer ElShafei, Navitas co-founder and business development manager.
The equipment at the Ann Arbor facility and its workforce of about 20 Ph.D-level chemistry engineers will greatly broaden Navitas’ research in battery cell development, ElShafei said.
In addition to the Ann Arbor staff, Navitas also hired 11 engineers from a former A123 automotive and military facility in Livonia, Mich., which ElShafei said will also help the company focus on development for its commercial and industrial customers.
“Our focus will be on advanced research and development, cell technology for military and government, in addition to increasing engineering capabilities for our industrial and commercial applications,” he said.
The new division will be named Navitas Advanced Solutions Group and will be headed up by General Manager Les Alexander, a former A123 employee in Ann Arbor.
Alexander has experience in the lithium battery industry and had been an integral part of the Ann Arbor team since he was with T/J Technologies, a lithium battery technology firm which A123 Systems acquired in 2006, the company said in a release.
Navitas plans on investing up to $10 million into the division this year, ElShafei said, and will be hiring an additional 40 employees, which will almost double the company’s current 75-person staff.
A key focus for the company will be the development of safer lithium ion battery technology, ElShafei said.
He pointed to the recent issues Chicago-based Boeing Co. has had with batteries in its new 787 Dreamliner jets as an example for the need for safe, stable batteries that can be used in a commercial and industrial environment.
In Boeing’s case, its new state-of-the-art aircraft was grounded by the FAA after several incidents prompted emergency landings. Investigations are currently focused on batteries used in the jet as a cause of the incidents. “We have the capability to research and — in a year or two — develop battery technology that is nonflammable … that’s what we would consider state of the art,” he said.
The company, which was founded in 2010 as MicroSun by ElShafei and his parents, Alan and Nancie, sold off its Technology, Electronics and Asia divisions last year, retaining the Innovative Energy Storage Solutions division, which was renamed Navitas Systems.
Nancie ElShafei is the company’s CEO and owner, while Alan is chairman.
Nancie ElShafei was honored by the Daily Herald Business Ledger in its CFO of the Year program last year.
Navitas was not the only company with suburban ties benefiting from A123 Systems’ bankruptcy.
Chinese auto parts manufacturer Wanxiang Group, whose U.S. operations are based in Elgin, was awarded A123 Systems’ nongovernment assets.
Wanxiang America President Pin Ni recently told Bloomberg News that the company is interesting in helping struggling hybrid car company Fisker. A123 was a key supplier of batteries for Fisker’s $103,000 Karma rechargeable-electric car.
“They’re a customer so it will be in our best interest to support them, as a vendor or possibly in a strategic alliance,” Ni said.
He declined to say if Wanxiang America would be interested in investing in the California-based auto company.

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