Resolve “Not Enough Storage”

Brill Power, the winners of Climate-KIC UK & Ireland’s recent Venture Competition Finals, are revolutionising energy storage

Reducing the lifetime costs of energy storage is essential for integrating more renewable energy sources like solar and wind into the grid more quickly, and for getting more EVs on the road. Climate-KIC UK & Ireland’s Gudrun Freese spoke to Christoph Birkl – who gave the winning Venture Competition pitch in London on the 18 September 2017 – about his team’s position within the wider energy transition story.

GF: You won! What do you think tipped it for you?

CB: We know how to describe what our business is about, and how it makes money. As a tech company, it’s easy to get stuck in the nuts and bolts of science and technology. Our Accelerator coaches worked with us to develop a pitch that tells a story about our commercial value and positive environmental impact. Also, storage is a missing link in the bigger picture of energy transition. Technological improvements happen slowly and are usually very expensive. Our solution enables a step change in energy storage technology.

GF: So what is your business about?

CB: We produce intelligent ‘control systems’ for lithium-ion batteries that make batteries perform better and live longer. Our USP is that we control batteries at a cell-level, enabling us to get the maximum amount of energy out of every cell. Our tech allows us to extend the life-cycle of a battery by up to 60%; in other words 60% more charge and discharge cycles than conventional battery management systems.

GF: What’s your pitch to your customers?

CB: We will supply our product – circuit boards with specialised software – to battery makers in markets such as grid-scale energy storage or electric vehicles. By extending the useful life of batteries we reduce their lifetime cost and help avoid battery waste, giving our clients a decisive edge in their respective markets.  

GF: And what’s the attraction for investors with environmental impact criteria?

It’s actually a great example of the triple bottom line.

Our technology reduces the lifetime capital costs of batteries by getting 60% more cycles out of every cell in a pack. Even if you’re happy with the existing lifetime of your battery, we can reduce the capital cost of a battery system by using fewer cells to achieve the same long-term energy storage requirements.

This reduction in capital expenditure makes storage more economically feasible for developers, which makes it more likely to be more widely adopted, which unlocks greater potential in renewable energy generation.

Another environmental benefit of our technology is its ability to reduce the number of lithium-ion cells that have to be manufactured to meet a given energy storage demand. The energy required to make lithium-ion cells leads to roughly 2 kg of CO2 equivalents per cell. By reducing the number of cells required for a pack, we can significantly reduce emissions associated with cell manufacturing.

GF: How do you explain the social benefits of your tech to investors and customers?

The social benefits of our technology are closely linked to its environmental benefits – reducing emissions, particularly in urban areas, has a direct positive impact on the quality of people’s lives. Air pollution is a huge and growing problem, not only in emerging economies but also in Europe and the US, which has been recognised by the commitment of numerous European countries to ban combustion engines within the next few decades. We can help make the transition to zero emission transport a success through more efficient, longer lasting battery systems.

GF: You’re based in Oxford, where in some areas, grid constraints make it difficult to maximise the amount of renewable energy integrated into the grid. How would your technology impact this dynamic?

CB: Our technology increases the financial viability of grid-connected storage. This could mean that instead of massive infrastructure investments to improve grid capacity, or limiting the production of renewable energy, we can create the storage that is necessary to integrate more renewable energy into our electricity grid. We are talking to National Grid about testing our technology in collaboration with battery makers. We’re keen to develop as many pilots as we can over the next few years, all over the country.

GF: Tesla – customer or competitor?

The battery industry is traditionally made up of cell makers, like Panasonic, Samsung and LG Chem, and battery system makers like NEC, ABB and Siemens. Battery system makers combine cells with a control system, which they either make themselves or purchase from a control system supplier like Brill Power. Tesla are starting to blur the lines between cell and system makers by making their own cells and integrating them into battery packs.

As far as we know, Tesla are not yet exploiting the potential to use every single cell more efficiently. They also don’t make control systems for other battery system integrators – just for themselves. So we’ll see! At the moment, they’re both a potential customer and competitor.

GF: What’s next for your team?

CB: Our team of four has been working out of the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Oxford. We’re going to find our own office and lab space now and transition into full-time work on Brill Power. The prize money will help us buy equipment and facilities to develop and test our technology. Over the next year, we’re going to take our technology out of the lab and into real-world applications through pilot projects with partners in the fields of grid-scale and off-grid energy storage.

GF: What’s your invitation to the world – anything you’d like to put out there?

CB: If you are a battery system maker and interested in making your products live longer, perform better and cost less, please get in touch with me through our website

Since winning the Climate-KIC UK & Ireland Venture Competition, Brill Power has also won the Shell New Energy Challenge in Amsterdam – an award of €100,000 in the form of a convertible loan. This past summer they also won the Oxford Venturefest Pitching for Success competition and were named as “Best potential angel investment” by the Oxford Investment Opportunity Network. Brill Power will be pitching at Hello Tomorrow in Paris on 27 October as one of seven finalists in the Energy Transition track.

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