A Tallahassee-based high-tech startup whose products power many handheld devices is no longer making products by hand.
With the addition of a “dry room,” unveiled Monday, General Capacitor can expand its manufacturing capability and its workforce.
A common feature in manufacturing and research settings, the dry room deprives the air of moisture that could cause lithium to become flammable.
General Capacitor’s 2000 square-foot dry room, the only one of its kind in the North Florida region, also means the company can add another five or 10 employees to the 17 already on the payroll.
“These are jobs you can take without a college education, but it takes some training,” Davis George Moye, the company’s project manager and general counsel. “We can train somebody and they can be earning much more than minimum wage because they have a technical skill operating some pretty sophisticated machinery.”
General Capacitor set up its headquarters two years ago in a warehouse off Jackson Bluff Road. Jian-Ping “Jim” Zheng, the company’s founder who teaches engineering at Florida State University, invented a lithium ion capacitor that was a safer option than lithium batteries because his product wasn’t prone to overheating.
In 2016, the U.S. Army awarded the company a $1.8 million grant to develop an internal hybrid battery/capacitor power system for soldiers using hand-held radios and a mobile power source in the field.
The Army deal forced the company to expand its manufacturing capability with an on-site dry room, creating a controlled environment and a humidification and air-handling system.
The fledgling company went from producing up to 10 super capacitors per day by hand to 100 to 150 per day. On Monday, a private tour and ceremony offered a glimpse of the expansion.
“Right now, we’re having a lot of people who are interested in our product but we just can’t meet their demands,” Moye said.
General Capacitor has turned away business. For example, Moye said one company wanted 10,000 capacitor cells in a week. A capacitor is a small energy storage device, usually made up of one or more pairs of conductors separated by an insulator.
The work done at General Capacitor falls under one of four the industries targeted by the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality. The four industries are applied sciences and innovation, manufacturing and transportation/logistics, professional services and tech and health care.
OEV assisted General Capacitor by playing an ombudsman role in the permitting process when the company needed clearance for a pad area outside its building that would house equipment for the dry room.
“We always want to make sure there’s a fertile environment for our existing businesses to grow and thrive,” said OEV Director Al Latimer. “When that exists, you see expansion like that of General Capacitor. Their expansion here says they are confident in their ability to grow and make a profit here in Tallahassee and Leon County.”
Moye said the company plans to mass produce its capacitors for its current military and commercial customers. But he said the company’s product can be used for nearly anything that needs a battery.
In addition, Moye said talks are underway about using the capacitors in satellites, along with the tactical microgrid for the military, which allows for more efficient energy use and storage.
“There might be a day when people want to use them in the traditional power grids. I don’t know, but it’s not a long way off. We’ve had people call us for toy cars, vacuum cleaners, starter batteries, MRI’s. You name it,” Moye said. “Anything where people need a battery, they want us.”