Battery maker WA faces charges of supplying US technology to China

“There was no plan”

On April 7, 2021, Western Technologies sent a notice of intent to sell UniEnergy’s warranty through a private sale. The company had not repaid its loan for almost a year. The guarantee included substantially all of UniEnergy’s remaining assets, including its technology license.

On April 22, UniEnergy left its headquarters in Mukilteo, leaving behind a mess of batteries and chemicals. The last 11 employees have not returned to work.

“There was no plan,” said Villani, UniEnergy’s attorney. “These guys are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to figure out, ‘Oh my God, what do we do now?’ It was a chaotic mess.

David Wanek, CEO of Western Technologies, said in US bankruptcy court that his company was looking for buyers, but they were knocking on all the same doors that UniEnergy had tried. Two candidates emerged: Jones’ Forever Energy and another new company, Vanadis Power.

Vanadis Power was established in the Netherlands in 2020 to become the European business arm of UniEnergy. Yang and Winter are listed on the website as founding members.

Vanadis boss Roelof Platenkamp has had a long career in the oil industry. He had offered to buy the assets alongside German industrialist Helmut Rebstock, CEO of TGOOD Global, which manufactures prefabricated substations.

On August 24, 2021, Western Technologies agreed to sell the assets to Vanadis, explaining that they had made the best offer and that Jones had never demonstrated that he had access to capital. The deal only required $273,000 up front, with a few more millions paid over time.

Jones called it a “totally bogus sale”. He said Western Technologies never gave him the time of day. He said Yang and Winter were trying to avoid debt and keep a federal invention out of American hands.

“They’re just greedy old guys who screwed up and don’t want to give up,” he said.

Before the sale, the national laboratory gave the green light to transfer the technology license to Vanadis Power.

Citing customer confidentiality, lab officials would not comment on what they knew about Vanadis Power, its whereabouts or its plans to continue partnering with Chinese companies.

When the deal with Forever Energy fell apart, Jones went on the offensive, warning the national lab that UniEnergy was violating its license and contacted reporters to do some investigative reporting.

Jones also led efforts to force UniEnergy into involuntary bankruptcy. According to court documents, Jones rounded up potential creditors and paid attorney fees. In bankruptcy court, lawyers argued that the sale to Vanadis Power amounted to a fraudulent transfer of assets. The judge said the argument had, according to early appearances, “one foot in the door”.

In May of this year, a federal judge ordered UniEnergy Technologies into bankruptcy, converting the case to Chapter 7 to liquidate the company’s assets.

In June, the national lab terminated Vanadis Power’s technology license for failing to pay royalties and failing to meet other milestones.

The ReFlex assembly line in China, meanwhile, has gone dark, Yang said.