A unique new battery regeneration process known as Macbat Midi is giving a family-owned company from the Swedish province of Värmland visions of a potentially enormous international market. By giving new life to aging lead-acid batteries, Macbat cuts lead waste and saves energy.
Macbat founder Åke Johansson bought the patent for the process, which is based on a combination of electro-mechanics and advanced computer technology, in 1988. But it wasn’t until about ten years later that Johansson and his partner, Bengt Arrestad, realized that the need to cut resource consumption—primarily lead—was opening up market potential.
With the Macbat Midi battery regenerator, the large lead-acid batteries used in applications such as forklift trucks and reserve power facilities for mobile telephone systems can function considerably longer.
“At the very least, the lifespan can be doubled, cutting in half lead usage. At the same time, energy usage is lowered during charging and wear and tear is reduced on electric motors when voltage evens out and increases. There are many other advantages,” says Daniel Pålsson, Head of Sales for Macbat AB.
Costs cut in half
After a single annual maintenance regeneration that takes 24 hours, a battery regains the capacity and qualities of a completely new one. A new forklift truck battery costs between €3,000 and €8,000, and has a normal lifespan of three to six years without regeneration. As the Macbat process costs a fraction of this amount, a doubling of lifespan saves nearly half the cost.
“The market is endless,” says Pålsson. “We are in principal the only ones with a product like this, and our world patent lasts until 2024. In Europe alone, turnover for lead-acid batteries for forklift trucks and reserve power amounts to €1.5 billion each year.”
The technology is applicable to other battery types, and Macbat aims to expand its market to include electric car batteries.
Sluggish Swedish market
At present Macbat Midi is used in 30 countries. Clients include large battery users who operate the equipment on their own premises, as well as service centres that take in batteries for regeneration. The machine is not sold, but is instead hired out by the company together with technological and software support. For historic reasons, primary markets are in Great Britain and Russia, with the Russian railway ministry among the largest clients. New international contacts are in development, and a substantial deal with a player in Australia and New Zealand has been clinched. The home market, on the other hand, has been tough to crack.
“There is a great deal of mistrust in this business, stirred up by battery suppliers who claim that the technology doesn’t work,” Pålsson says. of course, they’re out to sell new batteries. On top of that, we’re still living in a ‘throwaway’ society.”
But thanks to increased environmental consciousness and insight into the fact that money can be made reducing consumption, sales are increasing in Sweden as well.
“When I presented the product in Sweden five or six years ago, people just laughed at me on the phone,” says Pålsson. “Now, without much of an introduction, customers are interested and invite me to come and discuss the technology and opportunities for both lower expenses and environmental protection. We meet a totally different attitude today.”
Article published in September 2009