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Aquion Energy will move to China, close Westmoreland plant at former Sony site

Joe Napsha
| Monday, Sept. 18, 2017, 4:27 p.m.
Anodes displayed off of the assembly line on their way to assembly at Aquion Energy's production facility on Technology Drive near Mt. Pleasant, on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Anodes displayed off of the assembly line on their way to assembly at Aquion Energy's production facility on Technology Drive near Mt. Pleasant, on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014.
Test technician Don Beseny, moves battery stacks which will be constructed into pallets, after completion, the pallets will be packaged and shipped from Aquion Energy's production facility on Technology Drive near Mt. Pleasant, on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014.
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Test technician Don Beseny, moves battery stacks which will be constructed into pallets, after completion, the pallets will be packaged and shipped from Aquion Energy's production facility on Technology Drive near Mt. Pleasant, on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014.
Constructed pallets of battery stacks, ready to be shipped from Aquion Energy's production facility on Technology Drive near Mt. Pleasant in September 2014. (Trib photo)
Evan Sanders | Trib Total Media
Constructed pallets of battery stacks, ready to be shipped from Aquion Energy's production facility on Technology Drive near Mt. Pleasant in September 2014. (Trib photo)

A company that built saltwater-based battery systems at the former Sony Corp. plant near New Stanton will move to China, according to the organization that manages the sprawling industrial site.

Aquion Energy Inc., with headquarters in Lawrence-ville, is moving operations overseas after emerging from bankruptcy in July and ending production at the 330,000-square-foot plant in East Huntingdon, said Donald Smith Jr., president of the Regional Industrial Development Corp. in Pittsburgh. The company has been shipping batteries already produced at the site, Smith said. But production shut down when it went bankrupt and most of the 70 workers were laid off.

Pennsylvania has provided about $17 million — $8.6 million in grants and another $8 million in loans — to the company, which had projected it would create an additional 341 jobs at the plant.

The company will terminate its RIDC lease by Oct. 4, the deadline for rejecting unexpired leases, according to documents filed in July in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. Aquion stated in bankruptcy court it no longer has use for the Westmoreland County property.

“Obviously, we're disappointed. The money we put into the deal went entirely into the facility, so it's nice industrial space that we certainly believe will be more attractive” to another tenant, said Smith, who noted Aquion's lease does not expire for a few more years.

The RIDC has not yet been formally notified of the termination but learned about it through Aquion's bankruptcy process, Smith said. The organization had invested about $1.5 million into Aquion's facility, Smith said when the company filed for bankruptcy.

An American-based ownership group, Juline-Titans, bought Aquion in a bankruptcy court auction in July, and a Chinese company, China Titans Energy Group Clean Power, provided financial backing, according to a Dow Jones report. The $9.8 million sale included the equipment and inventory, as well as intellectual rights.

An Aquion spokesman could not be reached for comment Monday.

Jay Whitacre, a Carnegie Mellon University materials science and engineering professor who founded Aquion Energy in 2009, said he is not associated with the reconfigured company.

In 2013, Aquion started to manufacture batteries that can store energy from solar panels and other renewable sources.

Aquion has said it will take 18 to 24 months before it will be able to integrate new technology into its current product, Smith said, and did not want to resume operations until that technology is perfected.

Jason Rigone, executive director of the Westmoreland Industrial Development Corp., could not be reached for comment.

Since the bankruptcy filing, the Department of Community and Economic Development has sought to recover money it says Aquion owes the state.

A spokesman for the state agency could not be reached for comment.

When Aquion filed for bankruptcy, DCED said it would take whatever steps are necessary under the bankruptcy code to recover its loans. The agency said it would review its financing for the project, which included evaluating the collateral.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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