What are some interesting energy storage startups

A startup in which air plays a very important role

The Munich startup phelas relies on air liquefaction for energy storage. The key word here is Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES). “During the charging process, our liquid air storage system uses energy to compress air, to cool it down to extremely cold temperatures down to -200 ° C and thus to liquefy it. For discharging, the deep-frozen liquid is heated - quasi boiled - and evaporated in the process. The strong increase in volume and pressure is in turn used to generate electricity, like a steam engine, ”explains founder Justin Scholz The concept.

In an interview with deutsche-startups.de, the phelas maker also talks about power plants, profitability and the commercialization of the idea.

How would you explain phelas to your grandmother?
phelas develops and builds electricity storage systems so that electricity from the sun and wind can also come from the socket at night and when there is calm. For storage, we use something that is sustainable and available in abundance: air. Our liquid air storage uses energy during the charging process to compress air, to cool it down to extremely cold temperatures down to -200 ° C and thus to liquefy it. For discharging, the deep-frozen liquid is heated - quasi boiled - and evaporated in the process. The strong increase in volume and pressure is in turn used to generate electricity, like a steam engine.

Which problem exactly do you want to solve with phelas?
The world needs renewable and CO2-neutral electricity generation. We solve the current problem of intermediate storage with a cheap, sustainable and scalable electricity storage. And at exactly the right time: In the course of the decarbonization of the energy sector, renewable energies continue their triumph as the cheapest power source. However, the rapid expansion of solar and wind power plants with the simultaneous dismantling of conventional power plants still results in a flexibility gap and risks in the security of supply in the power grid. This gap must largely be covered by large storage systems. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) forecasts a global demand of up to 9 TWh by 2050. With the phelas energy storage system, we offer an economical solution for industry, energy producers and network operators. What sets us apart is the development of storage systems in a modular container design. This not only makes the system highly flexible and transportable, but also suitable for mass production and thus economically profitable. With this approach, we enable the switch to 100% renewable energy.

The Corona crisis recently hit the startup scene hard. How did you feel the effects?
As a hardware startup, the pandemic naturally affects us, and we have to adapt to slow bureaucracy, significantly delayed international procurement processes and limited meetings. The classic exchange with investors at networking events and conventions does not take place either. Nevertheless, the time has also released enormous productivity for us: We have been working with each other completely online since 2018, which is why the switch to "fully remote" was feasible from one day to the next. We have used the last few months to concentrate on working on our solution. Of course, we hope that the pandemic will end soon, so that we can work without restrictions on the construction of our demonstrator and together in the office. Last but not least, the startup ecosystem lives largely from networking on a personal level, be it in accelerator programs or shared office spaces.

How did the idea for phelas come about?
As the founding team, we have known each other for a long time from our time together at the Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Augsburg. During his studies, Leon Haupt researched stationary energy storage systems in collaboration with a Spanish energy supplier. At the same time, I was interested in liquid air storage. In exchange, we realized that there was a lack of inexpensive and sustainable alternatives to lithium-ions. This is how the idea for phelas arose. Together with Pit as the third founder in the group, we developed the idea of ​​building on the established process of air liquefaction for energy storage. Since then we have been working on our new concept of container construction as a scalable, economic model for sustainable energy storage. In the meantime, our team has grown to include experts in corporate development and chemical process engineering.

Has the concept changed in any way since the idea?
We have always remained true to the core idea, air liquefaction for energy storage. However, we have continuously developed and refined the implementation concept and business model since the early days - right up to the approach that sets us apart today: bringing a standardized, modular and mass-produced product onto the market. Using the container construction method, we achieve a high level of economic efficiency in the technology. In order to develop a product that makes a decisive contribution to the energy transition, we are in close contact with the developers of renewable energies, network operators and electricity-intensive industries. The findings sharpen our product and business development.

How exactly does your business model work?
As a hardware startup, the first step is to focus on the construction, sale and maintenance of energy storage systems. Relevant customer segments are solar and wind park project developers, transmission network operators and distribution network operators such as municipal utilities as well as medium-sized to large industry. The technology means that we can obtain most of the components from established suppliers in chemical process engineering. This reduces our share in the development and manufacture of critical components and thus also our risk. As soon as our system has established itself on the market, the low wear and tear and the resulting long service life also enable expanded revenue models such as rental and leasing systems or storage-as-a-service models that provide for billing based on consumption.

Who are your competitors?
Our competing technologies are lithium-ion, vanadium redox flow and thermal storage. However, none of these technologies offers such a decisive cost advantage for large amounts of energy with simultaneously small cyclical degradation, high modularity, transportability and excellent environmental compatibility as phelas. This combination will be the decisive criterion for success in the market in the future.

Where will phelas be in a year?
Our demonstrator will be finalized in a year. At the same time, we are starting a pilot project with a partner. With both we want to show the potential of the technology. The demonstrator and the pilot project are therefore essential milestones on the way to commercialization and the conclusion of seed financing, which we are aiming for in the first quarter of 2022.

Start-ups with Impact powered by Samsung

In our main topic “Start-ups with Impact”, we regularly report on the zebras among the start-ups. We accompany the stories of founding teams with innovative technical solutions that pursue sustainable and economic goals in equal measure. The rubric is funded by Samsung in partnership with the Social Entrepreneurship Network Germany and the Impact Hub Berlin, which have made it their business to contribute to better framework conditions for social innovations. In the series of articles we shed light on the potential of the zebra scene. Further information at: Samsung for Impact.

Photo (above): phelas

Alexander Hüsing

Alexander Hüsing, editor-in-chief of deutsche-startups.de, has been working as a journalist since 1996. During the New Economy boom, he volunteered for the Kressreport industry service. During this time he was already working with young, aspiring internet start-ups. In 2007 he started deutsche-startups.de.