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Las Vegas plant cranks out lithium batteries

Several dozen lithium battery units on a long table will be shipped soon for use in defibrillators, while several new electric bicycles that will retail for $5,000 were standing sentinel nearby at the Rechargeable Power Energy (RPE) industrial office off Arville Street in South Las Vegas.

When it comes to high-powered lithium batteries, the Tesla battery factory east of Reno isn’t the only power pack game in Nevada.

Las Vegas-based Rechargeable Power Energy, with 10 employees, has quietly carved out a growing lithium battery business, with sales expected to hit $1 million in 2015 and then soar to $10 million in 2016 thanks to construction crews that need batteries to power light systems for night-time construction work, said Ping Gao, a Chinese national who is the RPE owner and chairwoman.

Ping has extensive contacts with lithium battery suppliers from China, and has used her network to help launch RPE about three years ago. She chairs the Lithium Battery Association of China and also heads the Lithium Battery International Summit, which brings together more than 5,000 research and manufacturing industry professionals.

“She uses her connections to get the best (battery) cell suppliers in China,” said Sean Turner, RPE sales and service engineer.

The company exhibited Wednesday at the Interbike international bicycle trade show at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to unveil a new electric bicycle called Ripple Bicycles and to show new battery packs that can propel e-bikes longer and faster. About 25,000 visitors are expected to attend the three-day bicycle expo, which is closed to the public Wednesday and Thursday but open to the public Friday for a $20 fee.

Turner said most battery-powered electric bikes can go for 35 miles, but he said RPE is making a battery pack that can power e-bikes to go 40-60 miles on a charge.

RPE’s 8-amp battery for an e-bike sells for $343, while a 24-amp battery costs more than $900, Turner said.

Mike Horan, RPE chief operating officer, said 200,000 electric bikes are sold in the U.S. a year. Horan noted that is a fraction of the 20 million e-bikes sold annually in China and 4 million in Europe.

Electrical bicycle-related sales account for about 20 percent of the RPE’s sales revenue, while another 20 percent of sales come from battery sales, Turner said. RPE’s biggest money-maker comes from sales of battery packs for light towers that illuminate construction sites, Turner said. The light tower battery sales account for 60 percent of the revenue, he said.

RPE’s batteries are used in the light systems rented by Ahern Rentals, Turner said.

Rechargeable Power Energy has caught the eye of Jan Wright, owner of Tyro Ev, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based tech company that designs batteries for e-bikes.

“This company is exploring the market and will produce a competitive, high-quality battery,” Wright said.

The company’s 10,000-square-foot space focuses on the battery testing, assembly and research and development, Ping said. Every battery received from China is tested, then packaged together in a pack and then tested again, Turner said.

Horan said the company has invested $500,000 to grow in 2016.

With that growth projected for 2016, the company staff is expected to double from 10 to 20 next year, Ping said.

Contact reporter Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com. Find him on Twitter: @BicycleManSnel

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