Battery technologies are one of the pillars of the energy transition. Batteries enable the electrification of the transport sector and the integration of renewable energies into the energy mix. But they are not without environmental problems in terms of supply of strategic materials such as nickel, cobalt, lithium or even copper and graphite.
According to the Bureau of Geological and Mining Research (BRGM), consumption of rare earths will increase by about 8% per year as production of electric cars increases. Just as the demand for metals useful for the energy transition will explode by 2050, according to Eurométaux, the European association of metal producers: +3,500% for example for lithium or +330% for cobalt. No wonder when you consider that the average single battery of a small electric vehicle contains 7 kg of lithium, 12 kg of cobalt, 34 kg of nickel or even 11 kg of manganese.
New cell generations must arise. Solid electrolyte technology seems promising, but while they wait for the battery of tomorrow, researchers around the world are working on any solutions that could improve battery production and efficiency. Topics that could not be more strategic since batteries have become essential for all our devices and for all our applications.
An electronics technology
“We are chemistry agnostics“Warns in the preamble Christophe Piquemal, director and co-founder of Otonohm.Whether lithium, sodium or graphene doesn’t change anything for us‘ exclaims Elerig Escallot, his partner and technical manager. Because their innovation is not about the chemistry of the cells, but about the architecture of the battery: an electronics specialist.
Otonohm has been based at Euratechnologies in Lille for five years and is working on a new battery power supply chain. If there’s a breakthrough technology, if we know it hasn’t changed in 150 years, they tell us. In fact, most batteries work with a charger, an accumulator, a converter and an inverter to restore energy. Otonohm’s innovative idea was to remove all these steps to keep only the heart of the battery.
First win: save energy. They guarantee up to 30%. “With a conventional battery, if you take 1 kWh from the grid, you give the device back 700 Wh at best. By removing the charger and the inverter, we recover 900 Wh‘ explains Christophe Piquemal.
In Lille, tell about this young company from Lille that develops batteries that can be charged regardless of current and voltage, to charge any type of electronic device. By Annabelle Grelier
To achieve this, the engineering team connected each electrochemical cell of the battery individually, rather than in series as in a conventional battery. Driven by an algorithm, its operation is no longer fixed but dynamic.
“In concrete terms, this means that we can charge our battery directly from a solar panel, from wind power or from the grid, in direct or alternating current. It accepts any voltage, any signal, while without converter or inverter, so without loss, it can restore any voltage or current depending on the device that will be connected to it..”
Another benefit touted by Christophe Piquemal: longer battery life. With conventional batteries, the series connection of the cells makes the system vulnerable. If one is defective, the whole package no longer works. Thanks to the battery management software developed by the youngster from Lille, the damaged cell can be disconnected without affecting the operation of the others. Although the battery loses some of its capacity, its inventors assure us that it can still last for years. Also, it will be repairable.
From mobile phones to electric bikes and cars to construction tools such as jackhammers, the Otonohm battery targets three main markets: electromobility of course, but also stationary storage for renewable energy and backup generators because they are less polluting and quieter.
The company’s first customers now include an American tool manufacturer and an Indian plant manufacturer, but the founders want to use their technology in France. With a good eye they also see the installation of the three giga battery factories in the north, in Douai, Douvrin and Dunkirk. “These are complementary rather than competitive opportunities that are closer to home as they produce electrochemical cells that allow us to produce our batteries locally.“.
The next step for Otonohm is to further industrialize its mobile energy solution, which has already been patented three times.
The 10-employee company, recognized as a GreenTech Innovation in October 2022, is raising €5 million to expand its engineering team and is looking for an industrial partner to accelerate the commercialization of its technology.