It is day one of The Business Booster. The entrepreneurs check their stands one last time, the coffee machines are quickly set up, and the crew shows the first visitors the way. In one of the immense halls the RAI (a conference center in Amsterdam) is known for, over a hundred start-ups lined up in dozens of ‘streets’.
- At The Business Booster over a hundred start-ups present their energy transition solutions;
- More and more investors in Europe prioritize making a positive societal and environmental impact;
- Greater European cooperation in the energy sector, would lead to more energy scale-ups.
Europe’s first LFP battery manufacturer
In the “energy storage for industry” street, Marton Pap tells the promising story of ElevenEs from Serbia. The company plans to become Europe’s first producer of lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. Forbes has already declared this type of battery “the next big thing” for electric car batteries.
The EDGE battery cells use iron phosphate (FP) as the cathode material instead of the famous, expensive, non-durable cobalt and nickel. These batteries have a lower energy density but are cheaper to produce because iron phosphate can be found worldwide. In addition, the battery packs are less likely to overheat. Says Pap, “This saves space and allows us to stack more EDGE batteries and compete with the energy performance of other batteries.” The battery is suitable for use in electric cars, energy storage systems, buses, and trucks.
The start-up opened its first production facility in Serbia in April this year, which should grow into a plant producing 500MWh annually by 2024. Further on the roadmapare two giant plants: Giga-I (8GWh, 2026) and Giga-II (40GWh, 2028).
ElevenEs is one of hundreds of start-ups receiving support from investment company EIT InnoEnergy. It is one of the largest and most important investment companies worldwide for innovations in renewable energy. For example, it initiated the European Battery Alliance, the European Green Hydrogen Acceleration Center, and the European Solar PV Industry Alliance, among others. Last month, it closed a private capital round of more than €140 million.
ROSI: solution for billions of solar panels at the end of life
French tech start-up ROSI Solar (Return Of Silicon) stands a few blocks further down the street. The company of founder and CEO Yun Leo specializes in recycling solar panels. “The estimate is that more than a terawatt of solar power capacity is installed worldwide. That amounts to 2.5 billion solar panels. The average lifespan of a solar panel is 25 years, so go figure how much residual waste that will generate,” Leo says. With ROSI, she wants to tackle this problem by recovering and reusing parts of used panels on a large scale, including valuable materials such as silver and copper.
Leo: “PV technology is based on silicon. Purifying silicon is a very energy-intensive process that accounts for twenty percent of the total cost of a PV module. We recycle silicon from existing solar panels. ROSI differs from other companies in delaminating a panel until each part is separated. This allows us to recover and reuse five materials: silicon, silver, aluminum, copper, and glass.”
‘Europe has problem financing first-of-a-kind technologies’
Meanwhile, in the main hall, a conversation between Constantijn van Oranje (Techleap) and InnoEnergy’s innovation director, Elena Bou, is scheduled about the challenges of start-ups in the energy sector.
“You can argue that all tech start-ups in the energy sector are capital intensive and developing new technology. Europe has a problem with financing new technologies,” Bou noted. “There is enough capital, but capital is often not in the right place. As a solution, we are therefore trying to set up a kind of blended finance that also involves industry and customers.”
In addition, Van Oranje cites the transfer of academic knowledge to the market as a significant challenge across Europe, but in the Netherlands in particular. “The value of being an entrepreneur is fundamentally undervalued. Doing research is valued very highly, its commercialization all the less. Commercialization is still a dirty word for too many scientists. There are too few incentives to take something to market. Moreover, a brilliant scientist is not necessarily a good entrepreneur. If we want start-ups to make an impact, we need to emphasize the value of good entrepreneurship more strongly.”
More and more impact investors, still too much modesty
Fortunately, Bou sees that many things have also been going well since the founding of InnoEnergy in 2010. For example, thirteen years ago, the organization struggled to fill the arena, and more and more investors wanted to make an impact. A recent survey by Phoenix Capital Group showed that European investors increasingly care about making an impact. For example, Europe has more impact funds and investors than the U.S. (1160 versus 773 and 775 versus 433).
That said, we still have a lot to learn from entrepreneurs in America, Bou believes. “The other day, a start-up came to me with fantastic technology. When I asked where they wanted to market their product, they answered, ‘We want to focus on the south of France first.’ At the same time, the answer should be that they want to conquer the whole world. That reluctance is part of our culture.”
Van Oranje adds that countries must cooperate much more at the European level instead of putting their expertise or interest first. “It is typical of Europe that everyone wants to protect their cluster or ecosystem. We can achieve much more if we let go of that idea.” I walk back once more to Leo from ROSI. The entrepreneur has had a successful time. In 2022, she secured 7.4 million euros in funding to set up the first large-scale production site to recycle photovoltaic solar panels. That site opened last summer. ROSI was also voted start-up of the year by EY France. She doesn’t want to know too much about it. Behind us is a line of interested people waiting, so Leo has to move on. Suddenly, she remembers: “Oh, we are in the process of a new funding round. Bringing in money is not my strong point; I always forget to mention it,” she says with a wink.