You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

U-M energy engineer Levi Thompson says A123 bankruptcy a 'blemish' for industry

By Ben Freed

Levi Thompson has a unique view of A123 Systems and its bankruptcy, which was filed last week.

Thompson co-founded T/J Technologies, the Ann Arbor company that was acquired by A123Systems Inc. in 2006.

At the time, the pairing created the largest lithium-ion R&D effort in North America.


Levi Thompson develops new ways to store energy that can produce high charges while maintaining some energy density.

Courtesy Michigan Today

Thompson then co-founded a new company, Inmatech, Inc., in 2010 and is in the process of moving the headquarters from Plymouth, Mich. to the Venture Accelerator run by the Office of Technology Transfer on the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Center.

Thompson is no longer involved with A123, but has continued his involvement with the energy storage industry. And he thinks it still possesses vital commercial potential.

While Thompson was disappointed in the news of A123's bankruptcy, he does not think the bankruptcy will adversely affect the energy storage industry for very long.

“It’s certainly a bit of a blemish, but at the same time the potential there is still pretty significant,” he said.

“The assets are being acquired by another company that will also make batteries, so they will still be in products. It might not be the same vehicles, but they are still going to be out there.”

Thompson's new company is making prototypes that continue to build off of the intellectual property he develops at the university.

He said his company right now is focused on making the exteriors and shells that will allow for the best use in harnessing the energy stored by the new technology.

Rather than focusing on batteries, Inmatech develops super capacitor prototypes.

Thompson said batteries are optimal for storing large amounts of energy, but they do not discharge the energy very quickly. Using intellectual property developed at U-M, Inmatech makes products that have reasonable energy density and can discharge large amounts of energy at high speeds.

Five people are employed at Inmatech, which is leasing one cubicle at $125 per month from the university, according to a regents meeting agenda. The company has secured some funding from angel investors, but Thompson said revenue also comes from grants and contracts, including a grant from the National Science Foundation that provided some of the impetus for the move to Ann Arbor.

Rhythm Solutions, Inc., a U-M spinoff that owns licenses to software that can be used on irregular heartbeats known as atrial fibrillation, is also moving into the accelerator, leasing a single office in the space for $250 per month.

Thompson's wife, Maria, stayed on with A123 Systems as president of the Ann Arbor operations after the company's acquisition, but resigned in 2010.

Ben Freed covers business for Reach him at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2


Great Lakes Lady

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

Ben Freed: Hmmm....spend $1 million in lobbying, plus $6,000 in campaign contributions....and receive $249 million in government money.....declare bankruptcy......I would say that's a huge return on investment for A123 and a bad investment for us taxpayers.


Sat, Oct 20, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

...and how many millions did the Thompson's return to Obama and the Democratic campaign? So hopefully, they could get another windfall!!

A Voice of Reason

Sat, Oct 20, 2012 : 1:50 a.m.

The Thompson's are laughing all the way to the bank. They cashed out when they sold to A123. Dr. Thompson did all this while he is a professor at the University of Michigan Engineering School.

Mike K

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

Another failed "investment" from the Obama administration........... How was this investment financed? Well, two choices. Either it is on the $51,433 tab per CITIZEN (i.e. borrowed from China), or financed directly from the taxpayer (for those of us who do pay income taxes). Now for the funny part. The $250,000,000 that went into that company is going to invariably find its way into some 1%'ers pocket....

Ron Granger

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

How much compensation, of all types, did the executives pull out of this company?

Kai Petainen

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 4:12 p.m.

Ron, here's part of that answer...

Great Lakes Lady

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

It's very lucrative to make large contributions to the Obama campaign. Solyndra received $535 million of our hard earned tax payer money. Result: bankruptcy. I would say Solyndra earned an extremely high rate of return on their investment. Sounds like a similar situation with A123 Systems.

Ben Freed

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

Great Lakes Lady, According to Open Secrets, a government watchdog organization, A123 Systems as a corporation did not make any political contributions in the 2008 election cycle and individuals related to A123 made contributions totaling just six-thousand dollars between the two parties. A123 did spend almost $1 million in lobbying efforts since 2007, but that's hardly an extraordinary amount in today's political system. Ben

Kai Petainen

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

insightful article. nicely done. i feel bad for the employees....

Top Cat

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

A "blemish" !!?? No Mr. Thompson, another failed Government supported enterprise with millions of taxpayer dollars down the drain is irresponsible if not criminal.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.

Nice try Sparty. Congress allocated funds as part of Obama's green initiative (and with stated goals of improving the economy). Obama's Department of Energy then dolled out the funds to A123 and other "winners": Raser Technologies $33 million 2010 - bankrupt 2012. Ecotality $126 million in 2009 - soon to be belly up, CEO sat with first lady during 2010 State of the Union address. Now under investigation by SEC for insider trading. Nevada Geothermal 98.5M in 2010 - "significant financial turmoil" by 2011 per NYT. First Solar $400M loan guarantee 2010. Halt production and lays off employees 2012. Beacon Power $43M loan guarantee 2009. Fall 2011, delisted from NASDAQ and filed for bankruptcy. SunPower, Brightsource, Solyndra, Fisker - the stable keeps growing. Per a Hoover Institute study, "71% of Obama Dept. of Energy loans/grants went to individuals who were bundlers, members of Obama's National Finance Campaign Commtee, or large donors to the Democratic Party. And now A123. When we last left this Sparty, you were touting A123, their climbing stock price, and "new battery breakthrough". How did that investment work out for you?


Sat, Oct 20, 2012 : 4:15 a.m.

Congress created the fund for high risk companies, fully expecting some would fail, in hopes of saving others unable to access credit in the market which was locked up while big Wall St and Main St banks were failing during the worst of the Bush crash. Solyndra's loan came from this fund.

Mike K

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

Top Cat - If I "invested" your money like Obama has invested ours, I would indeed be brought up on crimnal charges. There is absolutely no accountability for these "investements" by the Obama administration. How the heck does that work? And to think that many are still going to vote for him, and he will likely win.. How the heck does that work? It's like Barney Frank on Fannie Mae all over again. How can one be so wrong yet still get voted into office??

music to my ear

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

I believe its time to quit wasting tax dollars on small business .if I were to start a business and did not get a loan from a bank , it would be sink or swim .yes it is tough but don't risk my money .enough is enough that money spent could have been used to train thousand of people for a job .instead it is down the drain.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 11:02 a.m.

A123 was one of only three companies in Michigan to achieve an IPO and stock exchange listing over the past FIVE years. The other two were the relisting out of bankruptcy of GM and Delphi. The lack of support for successful Michigan entrepreneurs by the Wall Street Investment Banks is scandalous. Because the SEC's over bearing rules have over time destroyed the business model of the regional investment banks that do securities underwriting and sales, that has encouraged mergers of the regional investment banks like Roney and First of Michigan, so they are almost all gone now, and there is none left based in Michigan. Wall Street is the only option to achieve an IPO and stock exchange listing. As a result, IPOs that raise under $100 million are scarce nationwide, and that is just bad government policy which needs to be changed!

say it plain

Sun, Oct 21, 2012 : 12:02 a.m.

So the question is, which of the current candidates for POTUS will do this? Neither, is my guess. Because Citizens United and the whole system of financing parties and candidates in this country prevents it, is my guess. But I'd love to feel hopeful that if I cast my vote one way versus another, things could change for the better in terms of developing new businesses in MI and elsewhere in the US.

Kai Petainen

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 9:46 p.m.

Stephen, I figured that's what you were getting at. But, the numbers guy in me started noticing that there are a number of other 'Michigan' firms that are located outside of Michigan, but they have operations here. For example, you could take a number of retail stores that have shops here, but their headquarters are located elsewhere. You raised a very important point though... if you look at the number of IPOs that were outside of Michigan and compare it to Michigan... the numbers are quite staggering (in a sad way to Michigan)

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 8:56 p.m.

@Kai Petainen: Thanks much for the feedback! I agree and wasn't previously aware of TOWR, which I will add to my list. DLPH notes dual HQ in England and Troy, MI and has a major HQ in Troy. Their investor and media contacts are in Troy, for example. AONE while headquartered in Mass. has (had) its major operations in Livonia and Romulus, Mich. Those are now being sold to JCI as part of their bankruptcy filing.

Kai Petainen

Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

correction. DLPH is United Kingdom. AONE is Massachusetts. there was GM and TOWR


Fri, Oct 19, 2012 : 10:51 a.m.

A failed government feeds failed enterprises..