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Flexible Battery Maker Lands Funding for RFID Production

Flexible battery manufacturer Blue Spark Technologies has closed $1.5 million of an anticipated $5 million round of Series B funding. The new funding will be used to support production ramp-up for large volumes of battery-assisted passive RFID tags.
Jul 28, 2009This article was originally published by RFID Update.

July 28, 2009—Printed battery manufacturer Blue Spark Technologies has completed the first closing of a planned $5 million round of Series B funding. The initial $1.5 million comes from existing Blue Spark investors Early Stage Partners and SunBridge Partners, as well as private investors, and the company says it is working with institutional investors to close out the remaining $3.5 million.

The money will be used to support the production ramp-up for the Cleveland-based company's 1.5V carbon-zinc battery for large volumes of battery-assisted passive (BAP) RFID tags, which are expected to ship in the fourth quarter of this year.

"We're looking to fund the ongoing expansion of our manufacturing capabilities in the fourth quarter for some very nice deals we're currently working on," said Matt Ream, vice president of marketing at Blue Spark.

The company outsources the manufacture of its printed batteries, but final assembly currently takes place at Blue Spark's Cleveland facilities.

Blue Spark's printed batteries provide a low-cost power source for battery-assisted RFID tags, which fill a niche between traditional passive and active RFID tags.

"Battery-assisted passive RFID is a pretty new segment, and it fills that gap with a better range than passive tags, but at a price that is significantly lower than active tags," Ream said. "Our batteries enable the development of a truly disposable tag that can be both thin and flexible."

Blue Spark president and CEO Gary Johnson and ABI Research RFID practice director Mike Liard were interviewed this week on CNBC's The Tech Effect program about the technology.

Liard said that the "possible applications are truly limitless when it comes to this type of technology," and noted that "cost is a primary concern with some of these new technologies, and what Blue Spark and other organizations are doing with these printed technologies is helping to reduce cost, and also take into account things like making them friendly for the environment, which is a key consideration. They are helping with read range, cost and ... environmental considerations."

According to Ream, the batteries do not contain any toxic materials, and are made with a recyclable casing material.

Ream says that BAP RFID technology has initially been targeted at asset management and other closed loop RFID applications, such as patient ID wristbands in healthcare settings, and traditional logistics applications.

"A common factor in a lot of these applications is that the items involved are difficult to track or are made of RF-unfriendly materials," Ream said. "One advantage of battery-assisted technology is that it is less susceptible to things like liquid absorption or reflection from metals."

The company is also seeing traction in other vertical markets, such as loyalty and credit cards, and interactive packaging in the promotional and novelty market.

In March, the company announced a partnership with UPM Raflatac under which Raflatac will manufacture battery-assisted passive tags using Blue Spark's batteries and passive, Gen2-standard chips from EM Microelectronic. Last year, Sealed Air announced it would use Blue Spark's batteries in its TurboTag RFID-enabled time and temperature monitoring solution.

"We continue to have a good relationship with UPM Raflatac, and we're in the process of seeding the market with some of the initial products to get customer feedback," Ream said, adding that Blue Spark is working with several other RFID companies, although the details of those partnerships have not been publicly announced.
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