Dennis Doerffel: REAP Systems
Being one of the first can be challenging. But the idea is to make sure that you are not also one of the last, Dennis Doerffel, founder of battery specialist REAP Systems, told 'MJ'.
He first came across battery powered automotive alternatives in Germany in the 90s, he bought two, and went about showing off their benefits, “including being able to hear the birdsong on the way to work”.
Although the systems as a whole weren’t that easy to maintain, his curiosity was piqued, and so back in 2001 he finally gave up the day job for PhD study – research that took him out of his native country and into the realm of lithium ion chemistries just as they started to get a foothold. The company, REAP, naturally sprang from his real desire to offer better, efficient and also environmentally friendly solutions: although homed in the UK, the company has a customer base that’s spread right across Europe and further afield, providing off-grid energy storage for isolated communities as well as battery powered vessels, including AUVs. But it’s still a tough call.
“People think, ‘just sit a battery in here’ without appreciating the level of system integration: after all, it has to communicate with the vessel controls as well as managing start-up, power-down, pre-charging scenarios and so on.”
Therefore although beguiling, actually applying the technology – which is still developing at a helter-skelter pace – can be a pretty intense business. “One European defence organisation already had orders for underwater vehicles, but they underestimated the level of detailed work required and they ran out of time, so the CEO made the decision to outsource the design and build to us.” It meant moving amazingly fast, “about six weeks to the first prototype and then another two or three months for the first builds” he said. While initially demanding, the orders are now a regular feature.
Despite all this, he remains true to his belief that the technology could, and should, provide all kinds of boat builders with realistic, cost-effective alternatives. So Dr Doerffel is working on a project that promises “out of the box” solutions which have had the wrinkles already smoothed out: the idea is to make it simple: “A yard or owner could pick out what’s needed from options offered by a number of manufacturers, and be comfortable that the whole thing will sit happily together.”
Dr Doerffel also is aware of how difficult it is to put environmental technology on the same footing as other, established systems: “If something is extremely new – take for example the very first personal computer - the expectations haven’t been decided and so it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work as well as it could at the start. But if you are trying to show an existing solution can be done in a better, more sustainable way, you had better be careful not to let anyone down: people just won’t accept that saving the planet will entail any inconvenience.”
By Stevie Knight
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