How can we be mobile without further burdening the climate? How can energy storage systems become more efficient? And when can the automotive industry do without combustion engines? To make the energy revolution technically possible, the E-Lyte Innovations start-up is working on improved storage solutions with customized electrolytes.
"We are improving energy storage systems and thus enabling mankind to live a more sustainable life," says Dr. Ralf Wagner about the young company's vision. Together with Dr. Stephan Röser, Dr. Kolja Beltrop and Sebastian Staiger, the industrial chemist started his own business in May 2019. "With E-Lyte Innovations, we want to ensure that every electric car, every ship, every drone and every autonomous air taxi can move in a climate-neutral manner on the basis of our electrolyte technology.
The founders had been researching this for some time at the Battery Research Center MEET of the WWU Münster. Electrolytes are a central component of every battery and enable the internal charge transport between the two electrodes. They are the key when it comes to battery performance, e.g. in the much-discussed rapid charging of electric cars. Dr. Ralf Wagner recognized on the fringes of a conference in 2017 that there is a corresponding market in Europe in precisely this field. "A participant wanted to know from me which electrolytes could be used if lithium-ion cells were to function at higher temperatures. Cell manufacturers obviously have difficulties in choosing the right electrolyte if the application is to be off-standard". Because there is no universal electrolyte for all applications.
This was the origin of the business idea, which the founding team is developing further with the support of the EXIST program. "For us as the founding team, it is essential to gain market experience as quickly as possible and to evaluate whether there really is a business," says Sebastian Staiger. E-Lyte's business comprises three areas: 1. the development, production and sale of electrolyte mixtures, 2. the optimization and production of customized electrolytes according to customer requirements, and 3. service measurements and consulting services. This makes E-Lyte Innovations one of the few companies in Europe with this know-how in an otherwise Asian-dominated market.
The founders completed the change of role from scientist to entrepreneur relatively quickly. "It more or less comes naturally." It was certainly an advantage that Sebastian Staiger and Dr. Ralf Wagner had already gained professional experience in industry. "With the founding partner Custom Cells Itzehoe GmbH we have a partner who supports us in business management issues as well as with a network of business customers, contacts to suppliers and distribution channels". The fact that they also have an experienced scientist at their side in Prof. Martin Winter, head of the Battery Research Centre MEET and the Helmholtz Institute Münster, gives the start-up additional security and strength.
For Dr. Ralf Wagner, running his own company has long been an attractive prospect: "I had the idea early on in my studies that I would like to set up my own company. I deliberately chose a Master's degree, which covers business management topics in addition to chemistry. Reasons bring freedom and independence. Your own work is invested in the best possible way".
THREE QUESTIONS TO E-LYTE
What support is important in the start-up phase?
Behind every start-up there is always an essentially important team of founders. Even a bad idea is more successful with a strong team than a great idea with a mediocre team. We have sought help in all tax law issues. Here we would like to thank Mr. Joostink, who, with his extensive experience as a coach, was available to us on a voluntary basis for all start-up-related questions. We are additionally coached by industry experts, investment managers and rhetoric trainers in order to continuously improve our business model as well as our individual leadership and management skills.
What role does the proximity to the university play?
The proximity to the university and the opportunity to work on pilot customer projects within the framework of EXIST research transfer funding allowed us to quickly gain market experience. Here we are very grateful for the support of our mentor Prof. Martin Winter and the entire team of the MEET Battery Research Center. Prof. Winter makes the company known, above all, through his large national and international network. Together with the MEET we also appear at trade fairs.
What is the significance of subsidies and prizes?
Without the subsidies we would not have been able to establish E-Lyte as it is now. The risk of financial failure would simply have been too high, as sales would have had to be generated from zero hour - and that is absolutely unrealistic. The awarding of prizes is always a great honour, recognition and a huge motivation boost for us. We always dedicate the success to our companions, supporters and above all to our families to say thank you, because they have to do without us so often on weekends and in the evening hours and still support us unreservedly.
Contribution by WWU Münster.