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Ecotality charging up for something new?

Acquisition of another battery technology company shows continued shift to clean-electricity technology rather than strictly hydrogen.

Ecotality plans to acquire Minit-Charger, a subsidiary of publicly traded Edison International, for $3 million in cash and stock, both companies announced Thursday.

Minit-Charger makes chargers for rechargeable lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries that can be used in electric light construction vehicles like forklifts. The Irvine, Calif.-based company includes Home Depot, Costco Wholesale, and Toyota Motor among its customers.

"It's the charging system, very complex, that allows batteries to be charged to maximum charge on minimum time. It has a complex electrical system that adjusts once every 300 times per minute for variances," Ecotality CEO Jonathan Read said in an interview.

Ecotality plans to incorporate Minit-Charger under eTec, another battery company Ecotality acquired in early November. Read said he hopes to "solidify Ecotality's position in the fast-charge battery market for the transportation industry" with this last acquisition.

It's a broadening of focus for the energy technology company that seems logical. Batteries play a leading role in the development of energy-efficient vehicles. When it comes to plug-in electric vehicles, one of the biggest setbacks is the limited range per charge. This is why electric vehicles have so far only really found a niche market in places that don't require vehicles to travel long distances, like warehouse facilities or municipalities.

Minit-Charger's claim to fame, according to Read, is that its "fast chargers" can fully recharge a lead-acid battery for a forklift, which can go about 8 hours between charges, in just 10 to 15 minutes.

This technology could be applied down the road to a new type of business model once electric cars come to the consumer market. To aid in the range problem, drivers could plug in and recharge at places like grocery stores while they shop or office buildings while they work, said Read.

Ecotality is best known for its Hydrality technology, a process it developed in conjunction with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory that produces hydrogen from magnesium pellets and water. But the company has been making purchases over the last year that include fuel cell technology, hydrogen fuel cell gear for universities and labs, and battery technology.