Doors Still Open to Liftport in Millville
Despite launching a lawsuit to collect almost $50K from Liftport, Donald Ayres, the City of Millville's director of economic development, is still looking for ways to get Liftport's nanotube production facility working in New Jersey's Cumberland County.
"We'd love to work with Mr. Laine and keep moving forward," Ayres explains, "however, we had arrangements with him to make some payments on our loan and as a a public agency we have to protect ourselves and protect our taxpayers."
Ayres is not unsympathetic to Liftport's plight.
"I know there have been problems and I expect problems when you're trying to commercially produce carbon nanotubes en masse and work with universities to try and create something new.
"I have a lot of admiration for the tremendous task they've undertaken. I realize it's a very daunting challenge for them, it's fraught with hurdles and there will be delays. At a certain point in time we have a responsibility to the people who ultimately provide the economic development fund."
For his part, Michael Laine of Liftport is forthright about the situation if a somewhat unhappy about the way it has played out.
"It's no secret. I'm not trying to dodge that. I'm $15K behind on my obligations," Mr. Laine states.
"[There's an email] I sent two weeks ago saying we're going to do our balloon test in Millville because we're committed to Millville. .... There's been plenty of opportunity to communicate with me directly and say 'we're thinking of seeking legal action.' The first thing I hear about it is in The Daily Journal."
The technical issue stymying Liftport is converting their Carbon NanoTube (CNT) furnace from a batch process to a continuous production process that can turn out commercial volumes of CNT's.
"We've been making nanotubes for four months," Laine reveals. "It's no different than anyone else is doing it's just not at volume. They're Single-walled CNT's ... the quality's fine there's just not much of it. That's the problem - nobody can produce substantial quantities of CNT's – yet.
"We're tackling something that's never been done before in the history of mankind and - Don's right - we expected problems and there were problems. But we never would have entered into this agreement with them in the first place has we not fundamentally believed that we have access to a key technology."
Liftport's legal troubles don't end there. The company has a matching loan from Cumberland Empowerment Zone (CEZ), the county organisation that, according to its web site, "provides financing for economic and community development initiatives as well as business and industrial expansion in the Empowerment Zone target areas" using federal funds.
"Our board did authorize us to go the same route," says Jeannine MacDonald, CEZ's executive director who is also open to resolving the situation outside the courtroom.
"It's definitely imminent and we will be unfortunately filing suit. We're not closing the door. We're just doing what we have to do to protect our interests. We certainly remain willing to speak with Liftport and work with them."
Laine declined to disclose what the next steps will be but remains undaunted.
"I still think we have a key technology Laine contends. "There's a technique we have helped pioneer that's part of that key mass-production process."
Paraphrasing Edison, Laine says “We haven't failed, we've just discovered four years of how not to do it.”