Phelas: Liquified Air for Sustainable Energy Storage

Phelas is developing an energy storage system that works with liquified air. The aim is the sustainable and decentralized storage of power that is produced by renewable resources and available around the clock. We spoke with the founding team.

Munich Startup: Who are you and what do you do? Please introduce yourselves!

Phelas: With Phelas, we’re developing the central solution module for energy transition. A modular, mass-produced and affordable energy storage system for industry, power producers and network operators.

We are Justin Scholz (27), Pit Sippel (36), Christopher Knoch (29) and Leon Haupt (27), the founders of Phelas. To reach this ambitious goal, we’re working as a team in three main areas of Phelas. Justin Scholz and Christopher Knoch are responsible for corporate and business development, financing, recruiting and networking. Leon Haupt takes care of the techno-economical modelling of energy storage and the development of business models for energy storage. Dr. Pit Sippel and Florian Kaufmann are advancing our process engineering and the development, planning and implementation of our demonstrator and pilot plant. What distinguishes us are our shared values – some of us have known each other for a very long time and our vision unites us: We want 100 percent renewable power generation to become a no-brainer. The missing piece in the puzzle for getting to that point is energy storage. We’re building that puzzle piece.

Energy storage could solve one of the main problems with renewable energy

Munich Startup: What problem does your startup solve?

Phelas: In the last 20 years, the world has made progress in reducing the costs for the production of renewable energy, but what’s still missing are scalable, sustainable storage options to completely decarbonize the energy sector.

Photovoltaic and wind power systems face major challenges with regard to being integrated into the power grid. In the past, electric load fluctuations were balanced out by controlling the conventional power plants. Due to the natural fluctuation of renewable energy sources, this is no longer an acceptable option. The trend is called the “flexibility gap.” Energy storage can solve this problem and provide the flexibility that’s needed on the grid.

Due to the common objective to reduce greenhouse gases and expand the use of renewable energy, the demand for energy storage will be evenly distributed across the entire world. By developing liquid air storage that can be mass produced, we’re making sure a sustainable, scalable and resource-efficient technology is available to shape the transition to 100 percent renewable energy over the long term.

Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box!

Phelas: Yes and no. Yes, we see many companies that are developing various energy storage technologies. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are the most prominent and are experiencing the biggest boom at the moment. Market analysis shows, however, that the demand for both stationary and mobile Li-ion batteries should be viewed critically in terms of resource use and sustainability.

No, because none of the existing technologies offer the same significant cost advantage for large amounts of energy as well as the low cyclical wear, high degree of modularity and portability and excellent environmental compatibility that Phelas does. This is where we want to deliver another effective tool for energy transition.

Munich Startup: What have been your three biggest challenges so far?

Phelas: Time: Phelas started just with an idea. That idea was developed for nearly two years, usually on the side while we had our regular jobs. We invested a lot of time in the evenings and on weekends to move our vision forward. That patience and staying power have paid off so far, because our effort is starting to bear fruit and now we can all work on development together full-time. That will give us another major boost.

Trust: The energy sector is very much based on security and reliability. And that’s perfectly understandable – it constitutes the lifeline for our economy. Gaining a foothold in this area with new technology requires a tremendous amount of trust that we will have to work hard to gain in order to acquire customers on the one hand and secure financing on the other.

Red tape: Startup life brings a mixed bag of tasks with it that have very little to do with the product itself. We’ve noticed that particularly when it comes to support, founding and finally the path to the first round of financing, many bureaucratic obstacles and pitfalls are lurking along the way. In this case, having a larger and diverse founding team really pays off. This in addition to knowledge from accelerator programs will allow us to meet these challenges and lay the foundation for a sustainable, growing corporate structure.

“Munich has contributed a lot to the Phelas story”

Munich Startup: Where would you like to be in one year, and where in five years?

Phelas: In one year, we’ll be working on finalizing the demonstrator and will have a partner for our pilot project. As already mentioned, trust in the technology is a key to success in the energy sector. That’s why the demonstrator and pilot project are significant milestones on the path to commercialization.

In five years, we’ll already be delivering commercial systems. The focus in five years will be on acquiring new projects and on production scale-up .

Munich Startup: What do you think about Munich as a startup location?

Phelas: Munich as a location has contributed a lot to the Phelas story. First off, three of our four founders are from here, which means we’re united by a shared hometown. What’s much more important for Phelas, however, is the support from TU Munich that we received in the early stages. That has given us even better access to the very strong existing local network of industry and research. Moreover, we’ve already noticed that Munich is attractive to many international top talents – we’re talking with potential team members both within the EU and beyond.

Munich Startup: Quick exit or staying power?

Phelas: Definitely staying power! Our technology has the potential to make a sustainable and global impact on the storage landscape of the future. We’re at an important turning point with our energy systems, which means that the coming years and decades will be very exciting, especially for energy storage. Our aim is to take on a leading role in that area – which is only possible with serious staying power.