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Altair to focus on utilities business after $29 million loss

NNBW Staff

Executives of Altair Nanotechnologies of Reno have decided to focus much of their attention on development of large-scale batteries for the utilities industry.

The company, which in recent years has worked in fields ranging from development of batteries for electric cars to creation of animal-health products, believes the big energy storage market can allow it to generate revenues and profits more quickly than other potential uses of its nanotechnologies, says Terry Copeland,

Altair’s president and chief executive officer.

And time is important to the publicly held company, which last week reported a loss of $29.1 million during 2008. That compares with a loss of $31.5 million a year earlier. Altair’s revenues during the year fell to $5.7 million from $9.1 million in 2007.

Equally important, Altair chewed through about $22 million of the $50.1 million in cash it had on hand at the beginning of 2008. Copeland noted, however, that tight cost controls reduced the rate at which the company is burning through its cash. During the fourth quarter, the burn rate was about $1.6 million a month.

The company delivered its first large-scale energy storage system last year to AES Corp. The system can store and almost instantaneously deliver up to two megawatts of power.

The company’s engineers have spent much of the past year figuring how to reduce the cost of producing the batteries, and Copeland said they’ve succeeded in trimming the cost by about half.

Potential markets for the system, Copeland told investors last week, include utilities that need to smooth

the demand on their grids and well installations such as solar-generating facilities that need to deliver a steady supply of power even when a cloud temporarily blocks the sun.

The federal stimulus package includes $4.5 billion to modernize the country’s electric grid, and Altair executive said last week the company expects to chase some of that grant money.

Meanwhile, Altair is taking a step back from its much-publicized efforts to develop battery packs for electric vehicles.

Copeland said the electric-car industry is dominated by many small players, all of whom want a customized battery system. Altair does not have the engineering staff to provide all the customization that customers want, he said.

Other potential uses for Altair’s technology paint production, for instance, or products to treat kidney disease are developing more slowly, and the company needs to focus on areas with a faster playback, Copeland said.

“The best way to navigate is to focus on what we do best,” he said.

Because the company missed its financial targets last year, it didn’t pay bonuses to managers. And because the national economy is weak, Altair didn’t give raises to any of its employees. NNBW staff


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