Where creative sparks fly test
Firefly is the spark community leaders involved in Peoria NEXT hope will ignite growth in the science and technology field within the Peoria area. Firefly was launched as a spinout company from Caterpillar Inc. with the help of Peoria NEXT and is involved in the research and development of a lightweight lead acid battery.
Illinois Central College provided incubator space at its North Campus for the rapidly expanding company that will soon move into its own headquarters. That’s quite a leap for the startup company that first began operating in an 800-square-foot lab at Caterpillar Inc. Several Bradley alumni and students are working at the growing company, which seeks to retain and attract attract a technology workforce to Peoria.
Matt Maroon ’02 was the fifth employee hired at Firefly. Now manager of applied engineering, Maroon recalls, “I was an intern at Caterpillar while I attended Bradley. I interned with Kurt Kelley, who is now the chief technology officer for Firefly. I co-authored two of the patents for the battery. The patents involve using carbon foam in a battery.”
After graduating, Maroon worked in Chicago for two years before Kelley offered him a position at the newly created company in January 2004. “Firefly was absolutely on the ground floor when I started. It was a good opportunity to get in with a startup company and take a risk to start something new.”
He adds, “The atmosphere here is different than it is at a large company. We each have a stake in the company’s success. If you don’t do anything one day, the company doesn’t move forward.”
George Anglin ’94 is senior manufacturing engineer. “My job is to transfer our product from research and development to manufacturing. I design equipment and make sure it works—we turn the dreams into reality, making sure we can produce the battery in a cost-efficient manner.”
Anglin says the primary challenge in working with the new technology is that there are no models to learn from. “We’re willing to try anything,” he says.
Firefly currently has two contracts with the U.S. Army. One is for the research, development, and eventual production of a high-tech battery for Army vehicles and the other is for a specialized battery. Another contract with Husqvarna is to build batteries for electric lawn mowers for their European market. The batteries will be for automotive, power back-up, and a gamut of other applications.
Ellen Friedinger McCarthy ’03 is a research scientist at Firefly. “I work on different composite materials and all the chemical processes that go on in a battery. I do the pie-in-the-sky research to make the battery lighter and run longer.”
Senior project manager Jerry Danks, an MBA student at Bradley, is among Firefly’s newest employees. Formerly working for Bradley at HITEC, Danks says, “A big part of my job at Bradley was helping high-tech companies get started. I knew Firefly, and working here was appealing. I helped put in place methodologies to help align the company’s projects with its strategic goals. That aligns with my work for my MBA, as well. My MBA classes help me understand the inner workings of business.”
Jamin Williams ’07 and Nick Viera ’07 are electrical engineering interns. Williams says, “I get to come up with ideas and see those ideas used. Nick and I have been working on speeding up one of our processes. We will actually use what we research.”
Before coming to Bradley, Viera, a native Texan, was involved in an electric vehicle community, a large group of hobbyists and people in the industry who are interested in getting electric engine-powered vehicles on the road. “I had heard of Firefly down there, but I didn’t know it was in Peoria.”
Viera, who had retrofitted a Jeep Cherokee into a fully electric vehicle when he was a high school sophomore, comments, “Everything I want to do in life revolves around what this company does.”
The entire group nodded in agreement with Maroon’s comment, “The glory of a startup company is you do a little bit of everything. You do what has to be done to keep a project moving.”
Read the feature "Innovators of Peoria NEXT"
Bradley plays a key role in the success of a new initiative to foster technology-based businesses, such as Firefly Energy and the inventors of the pac2. More >
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