Utilities and other investors are putting more funds than ever into a battery storage market worth an estimated $250 billion. Right on cue, European clean energy innovation engine InnoEnergy announced a global call for storage entrepreneurs. Their €100,000 first prize meant applications from a diverse range of start-ups flooded in. But which of these should be fast-tracked into this competitive market? At a special event which highlighted a plethora of complementary new technologies, the final ten hopefuls, pitching Dragon’s Den-style, were eventually whittled down to just two.
InnoEnergy’s Global call for Energy Storage Start-ups ended with the surprise doubling of the cash award to €200,000. CEO, Diego Pavia explained “our set-up means we can do things differently. When we finally got down to just two possibles, we realised we wanted to support both! So we chose two winners and doubled the prize money”. A fitting double-boost from the organisation behind The Business Booster.
Unique public/private incubator for next-generation clean energy solutions
Since 2009, InnoEnergy has created a unique innovation eco-system. With ongoing support from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) combined with an enviable roster of blue-chip private investors, their managed network has notched-up an impressive track record. Over 200 clean energy start-ups supported who typically take just 16-months to get to market and 97% of them still going strong.
InnoEnergy stands with “one leg in the institutions and the other in the private world” explains Pavia. “As well as private investors, in 2010 we secured a non-repayable seed fund from the Commission which adds up to around €800m by 2023. That gives us a lot of leverage as we perform our role of creating businesses and help bridge the gap from research towards sustainable energy solutions making a real impact”.
That “leg in the institutions” means a preferred relationship with regulators too according to Pavia. A clear benefit in the energy sector where “regulation kills and creates markets”. “The fact regulators consult and work with us on what lies ahead gives our start-ups an added advantage”.
Energy storage is one of eight major investment areas, or “themes”, under InnoEnergy’s umbrella. “We got the mandate in October 2017 from the Commission to lead the European industrial strategy for battery storage” said Pavia. Their official role supporting the European Battery Alliance (EBA) is a means to deliver that.
No tribal thinking
The event underlined the interplay between technologies and demonstrated a collaborative spirit amongst innovators. Looking at this cross section you could see how solutions go hand-in-hand. For example, some techniques promise to double charging speeds whilst others promise to double battery life.
Wiebrand Kout, CTO at Elestor, an existing InnoEnergy supported start-up, pointed out that “there is no one rule for everything. For automotive you need different tech than for stationary storage. Very obvious for the storage in-crowd, but for many people it is still an eye-opener. The last thing we should do is start a tribal fight between battery chemistries [in the race to reduce emissions]. I predict hybridised systems that use lithium-ion for the kilowatts and flow-based batteries for the kWhs”.
“All the start-ups that made our shortlist are winners. This is a $250 billion new market so we need as many of them as possible” Elena Bou, Innovation Director, InnoEnergy
From a new platform for sharing containerised mobile battery assets, to improved charging speeds, to modular mobile power packs, the final list of ten included a diverse line-up of disruptive solutions as well as scalable, smart new business models.
Mike Simpson, co-founder of CheeseCake Energy and a PHD at Imperial College, claims their compressed-air energy storage concept performs at an efficiency rate of between 60-70%. Not as high as batteries but at lower cost overall. No exotic elements of any concern to the environment and only long-lasting steel components. “Our technology stores most of the electricity in the form of heat, using low-cost materials like rocks” Simpson added.
Capacitech Founder and CEO Joe Sleppy explained how their solution could “pimp” your existing home energy system without the need for re-certification, dis-assembly or significant investment. Their in-line cable capacitors are built into existing DC power cords to complement batteries themselves by insulating them against damaging discharge meaning your battery could last 15% – 35% longer. The same technology can be used inside cables connecting EV batteries to its motor helping it to accelerate even faster, travel farther per charge, and increase operating life according to Sleppy.
The Final 10
- Aviloo – Easy-to-use diagnostic system for electric vehicle batteries – AUSTRIA
- Battrion (Joint €100,000 award-winner 2019) – Innovative fabrication technologies for lithium-ion batteries – SWITZERLAND
- Gaia Membranes – Membrane technology to increase efficiency of flow batteries by up to 15% – SWITZERLAND
- Instagrid (Joint €100,000 award-winner 2019) – Portable high-power batteries of unrivalled power density and weight – GERMANY
- m-Bee – Power circuits for the next generation of battery storage systems – GERMANY
- Powervault – Designers and manufacturers of smart energy systems – UNITED KINGDOM
- Skoon – Energy storage for sharing, leasing and renting – THE NETHERLANDS
- Twaice – Predictive battery analytics – GERMANY
- Volt Storage – Redox-flow battery systems for residential homeowners and commercial applications – GERMANY
- Wattalps – Modular battery system designed for small and medium vehicles: more cost effective, more flexible and faster to implement – FRANCE
The complementary potential of the various solutions on show was striking. However, deciding whether to invest in these concepts requires further analysis. That’s the function the InnoEnergy network and assessment process is designed to fulfil.
€200,000 joint winners
In the end, InnoEnergy selected two stand-out prospects. Instagrid from Germany and Battrion from Switzerland.
Instagrid’s power pack innovation “allows the creation of battery-based electrical infrastructure at performance and cost levels which are competitive in the most critical fields of the energy transition” said co-Founder/CEO Andreas Sedlmayr. Their extremely stylish mobile power supply solution for heavy-duty tools and vehicles promise some impressive stats per module: 1-2kWh, 230V/3600W continuous power and weighing in at less than 12kg.
Sedlmayr considers their whole InnoEnergy experience a valuable endorsement: “we received strong additional proof that we are on the right track” and saw InnoEnergy’s network in action: “we already had the chance to make very good contacts – our first discussions with potential suppliers, partners and clients”.
“AGT is a minimally-invasive improvement that provides both the reliability and performance gain the industry needs” Martin Ebner, Battrion
And joint-winner Battrion’s CEO, Martin Ebner, explained how their Aligned Graphite Technology (AGT) allows charging times to be cut in half while providing the same energy density, lifetime, and safety as the best commercial cells available today. “AGT is compatible with existing manufacturing processes. This is crucial because the battery industry is now in a phase of extreme growth. A zero risk-tolerance environment that makes it very difficult to introduce novel technologies. AGT is a minimally-invasive improvement that provides both the reliability and performance gain the industry needs” said Ebner.
Meeting market benchmarks
InnoEnergy’s success ultimately depends on competitive solutions emanating from their network. “In Europe we have identified amazing competencies. They’re coming from China too…good! We can beat them” said Elena Bou.
Cindi Choi, partner at Total Energy Ventures (the venture capital arm of Total Oil) was clear that these businesses need to hit market benchmarks. She suggested the ambitious $50/MWh storage levelized cost of energy (LCOE) envisaged at the event for the future would need to be improved: “Solar is already hitting $20-30/MWh, I think they have to go lower”. Choi pointed out that the event had revealed new ways of looking at energy storage which could help solve the cost issue: “some of the companies here I’ll be introducing to our commercial business unit” she added. A strong indication of Choi’s optimism and hinting at what could lead to a first for Total and InnoEnergy.
Total Energy Ventures’ interest is the kind of network opportunity InnoEnergy creates across all its main business areas. What InnoEnergy showcased here in Amsterdam will be delivered 8-fold at their flagship, annual event in October, The Business Booster. This year’s gathering of start-ups from across all 8 of their themes will see around 300 companies take part and will no doubt continue the cycle of smart business thinking, innovation and collaboration the transition needs. You can register here.