2015 finalist

Brill Power

Breakthrough batteries

"Our biggest take-away was not to get married to out technology."

Brill Power’s breakthrough batteries.

This start-up extends lifetime of lithium ion battery cells up to 60%.

2015 Finalist Brill Power (formerly known as ionQube) is going strong. During the competition they scored high points with our jury because of their innovative energy storage technology for batteries. Their idea was to upcycle discarded lithium ion batteries as low carbon energy storage in areas in developing countries without electricity. However, participating in ClimateLaunchpad - and after that in the Climate-KIC Accelerator - made them pivot their business idea. They now focus on improving the lifetime of new lithium-ion batteries, using basically the same technology as they used for their initial idea. With impressive results. So far, they have been able to extend battery lifetime by 40 to 60%. That means the need for batteries to store the same amount of energy could also go down by 40 to 60%. Revolutionary.

From research group to start-up.

We recently had a chat with co-founder and CEO Christoph Birkl who tells us what they gained by entering our competition.

“After finishing my PhD here at Oxford I started the company with my co-founders. Almost all of us are from the same research group, dealing with energy storage and batteries. It’s also here at Oxford that we first heard about ClimateLaunchpad, which was a perfect opportunity to further develop our work in a sustainable and green direction.

Batteries are generally perceived as a green way to store and transport energy. But there is also the perfectly justified argument that producing batteries takes a lot of thermal energy and lots of materials, some of which are nasty chemicals. And in our research we discovered that a lot of battery storage capability is wasted through core battery design. These insights gave us the idea to improve this technology and make it greener. The ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of batteries needed with our technology.”

ClimateLaunchpad helped us get out of our tech heads.

“If you can extend battery lifetime and bring down battery lifetime costs, you’re solving a huge problem.”

“Our research group generally deals with energy storage and batteries, especially lithium-ion batteries. We’ve got some great competencies within our group in power electronics and more mathematical based simulations here. The thing is, working on technology in a research group tends to get you immersed in just that: technology.

ClimateLaunchpad was such a cool experience for us as it helped us get out of our tech heads. It’s very helpful to be forced to take a step back and actually describe implications and advantages of your idea – to a non-technical audience. The competition forced us to look at the bigger picture and to keep an open mind to potential changes.”

“Coming from a research background in a technical field, competing in ClimateLaunchpad opened up the business perspective for us.”

Initial idea wasn’t commercially viable.

“We started out with the idea to repurpose used lithium-ion batteries. Because, when we first looked at those discarded batteries, we took them apart and found that the energy in individual cells could still be used. However, not managed properly these cells cannot be utilized in a full battery. That’s why we were trying to come up with technology that would allow us to take these discarded cells and combine them into a remanufactured device that we called the ionQube. This way we wanted to upcycle used batteries. Our target market was in developing countries.

So we launched a pilot. We made some batteries and tested them in the field in Kenyan villages. This is when we realised that the required product development, manufacturing costs and supply chain made very difficult to create an economically viable product in that market.

But what we also realized is that the same technology that allowed us to use second life cells, also allows us to extend the lifetime of new cells of new batteries. So we pivoted our business idea. We still rely on the same core technology, but we’re using it for a different application. Rather than try to repurpose cells from waste, we’re now looking at a new cells. We came up with a product with an extended lifetime and lower overall lifetime costs for batteries. We aim for the European market, which is much easier than setting up in developing markets.”

Brill Power’s Climate impact

  • Technology extends lifetime of a lithium-ion battery by 40 to 60%.
  • The need for batteries can come down with that same 40 to 60% to realise the same energy storage potential.
  • Savings in material costs and lost energy costs.
  • Brill Power is working on a number to express the CO2 equivalent to be saved with their technology.
  • Brill Power could help save up to 23 million tons of CO2 equivalent by 2020 if all lithium-ion batteries were equipped with our technology. (Source for life cycle analysis: G. Majeau-Bettez et al. Environmental Science and Technology, 2011, 45, pp 4548-4554, source for global battery demand in 2020: Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, 2017)

“ClimateLaunchpad was perfect to further develop our work in a sustainable and green direction.”

Biggest take-away: don’t get married to your technology.

“I think a very good lesson we took away from both ClimateLaunchpad and the Climate-KIC Accelerator was that you shouldn’t get married to a technology but more to an idea that solves a problem. If you want to solve a problem, there are multiple ways to do it. Rather than just come up with one specific technology and try to push that at all costs, it’s really about being flexible and working with the feedback you get. It’s also about taking into account what sort of possibilities you have in the market to make it feasible. Coming from a research background in a technical field, competing in ClimateLaunchpad opened up the business perspective for us.”

We can really help get numbers up for wind and solar power.

“Ideally we’d like to make our technology applicable to any multi-cell battery. We want all batteries to take advantage of our technology and to extend their life times. We aim to unlock more renewable energy storage. So one great vision is that we can help utilities scale electricity in a more feasible and affordable manner. That would be a huge contribution. I think we can really help get these numbers up for wind and solar power.

Think of a solar power plant. It produces most of its energy during the day. But that’s not when most of us need the electricity. We need it in the morning to switch on our toasters and in the evenings when we get back home and watch TV and cook some dinner.

To shift power produced in the middle of the day to mornings and evenings you need energy storage, which can be done in a variety of ways. If you’ve got geological features like Norway, you can rely more on pumped hydropower plants. This way you can store energy by pumping water up the hill during the day, and then release it through a turbine during the evening and generate electricity. This is geographically a very limited solution and it has a pretty large environmental impact, because you have to flood entire valleys. An alternative is to store your electricity directly, like you can in batteries. The problem is that batteries are too expensive. So if you can extend battery lifetime and bring down battery lifetime costs, you’re solving a huge problem.”

Brill Power - Revolutionizing Energy Storage

Looking for partners to build demonstrator.

“Don't get married to your technology, but more to an idea that solves a problem.”

“Our vision requires big batteries. Right now we’re looking for partners who can help us build our first demonstrator. Hopefully this will happen sometime this year.

We don’t have paying customers yet. We are financed by Climate-KIC and by a university based seed fund at Oxford University. And we are now getting into fund raising. We want to raise seed funding ideally by the end of summer and that should get our pilot project underway.”

Best advice: don’t give up if it doesn’t immediately work.

Christoph has a word of advice for people thinking about entering ClimateLaunchpad: “Just do it. Give it your best shot. Give it a try. And don’t give up if it doesn’t immediately work. We pivoted, changed our ideas. So don’t be discouraged, be persistent. Joining ClimateLaunchpad helps build your credibility and it helps build traction for your company. And it’s also about validating your idea. It’s easy to convince yourself of a solution to a problem but to have it confirmed by somebody else and validated by a panel of experienced people is an entirely different story. So it’s definitely very valuable.”

– Brill Power

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