People often credit their ideas to inexplicable eureka moments. But sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
Almost two years ago, Rafa Terradas was thinking about developing an innovative bicycle, unlike anything else on the market.
At the time, he was also collaborating with the Spanish National Research Council, CSIC, on a project using artificial intelligence and robotics to help autistic children communicate with their environment.
There, he met members of the research group from the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) dedicated to graphene, which is a super-thin material that’s stronger than steel, more conductive than copper, and flexible.
The institute was then working on the storage of energy using graphene. Tech entrepreneur Terradas, founder of startup builder Napptilus Tech Labs, saw an opportunity to develop graphene batteries for electric vehicles.
The startup he created, Earthdas, has now developed a battery for charging electric bikes and motorcycles in just five minutes, at home and without the need for any specific installation.
Ultimately, the technology could be used to enable really fast charging for larger vehicles, such as when they’re stationary at traffic lights.
It uses paste-like electrolytes based on graphene, which improve “energy density capacity”, and offer a 12 times faster charging time than lithium-based equivalents, says Terradas.
The first prototypes built by the company, located in the Pier01 of Barcelona, the hub hosting most of the Catalan’s capital’s innovation ecosystem, were similar to conventional batteries.
Because of the promising results, Earthdas made the leap to the 400gr prototype, backed by an international investment fund.
It plans to start selling the batteries in the second half of 2018, with a first production run of 3,000 units offered directly to manufacturers of electric bicycles and motorcycles, first in Catalonia, and then on a European and global scale.
“Currently, cities are experiencing an obvious shift in terms of mobility. We’re all aware we must reduce the space occupied by combustion vehicles and incorporate innovative solutions to reduce pollution,” Terradas tells ZDNet.
“Because graphene batteries charge so quickly, that opens the door to revolutionary solutions in terms of energy sharing between users.”
Marc Alier, professor and researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), sees the introduction of graphene, which has a growing set of potential applications, as offering an exponential improvement in the development of batteries because “you can work with different geometries and higher durability”.
However, he argues that this material is not the only game-changer in the energy market around the world. Solar power, for example will become more efficient and cheaper than it is now. In the meanwhile, graphene is also strengthening solar-cell performance.
Earthdas wants to sell graphene’s capacity to improve the charging process to companies making electric vehicles and, later, to car-sharing outfits.
The startup, which has seven employees, is also developing a mobile product that will allow users to match battery power to their travel patterns, giving them a charge when they need it most.
Terradas is aware that things are moving fast and that’s why Earthdas plans to invest €800,000 ($930,000) in R&D over the next three years.