Skeleton’s crew expands with German focus

Skeleton Technologies pitched to investors at The Business Booster in Barcelona (pic: InnoEnergy).

Skeleton Technologies pitched to investors at The Business Booster in Barcelona (pic: InnoEnergy).

By Jason Deign

Skeleton Technologies is expanding its top team and contemplating further cash injections as its sets its sights on a precious German market.

The Estonian ultracapacitor maker, which has so far raised €26.7m in funding, is looking for a vice president of global sales as it expands manufacturing into Germany, which is expected to account for a fifth of its global market.

The company was also showing off to potential investors and customers at a showcase event called The Business Booster (TBB), in Barcelona, Spain, last Thursday.

Having closed its round C funding, for €13m, this summer, programme director Egert Valmra appealed to TBB’s audience for a round D injection in support of UCGEN3, a ‘next-generation’ ultracapacitor programme led by Skeleton.

In the meantime, however, Skeleton is focusing attention on scaling up production in Estonia and building a presence in Germany, where it opened a factory this year. 

Assembling complete systems

In the last 12 months, Skeleton has gone from making ultracapacitor cells to assembling complete systems for applications such as uninterruptible power supplies or kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS).

“Scaling up our manufacturing capabilities and moving up the value chain have been our two guiding themes,” said Oliver Ahlberg, co-founder and chief operating officer.

“We’ve finalised our scale-up here in Viimsi, Estonia, which was a huge milestone for us,” he said.

“We’re now able to offer mass-scale cylindrical ultracapacitors that still have market-beating performance: four times higher power density, 60% higher energy density than competitors.”

Skeleton’s €3.5m Estonian factory is designed to produce around half a million cells a year and is “a month or two” off being able to operate at that scale, Ahlberg told Energy Storage Report. 

Current levels of production

He would not divulge current levels of production. The company is also finalising scale-up of its manufacturing capacity in Großröhrsdorf, eastern Germany.

The factory there, which could produce up to 2m 750-farad cells per year, is slated to come online in February. The German plant will focus on final assembly and quality control.

“Germany is currently a large part of the global market,” said Ahlberg. “It’s predicted to achieve about 20% [of total global ultracapacitor demand] and there aren’t any local producers in Germany… or Europe as a whole.

“We see the European market, and the German market in particular, as our home market. We’re just moving closer to our customers with this German plant.”

The vice president of global sales, along with a regional sales manager for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, will lead efforts to tap into opportunities within Europe’s ultracapacitor-hungry industrial and energy sectors. 

Utility market and industrial players

Skeleton’s sales are presently split between the utility market, for ancillary services, and industrial players, for applications such as KERS, where Skeleton works alongside Adgero, a French motor technology firm.

Other notable customers include the European Space Agency, which is expecting to put a Skeleton ultracapacitor into space in 2018, and Flying Whales, a French startup developing a new generation of blimps.

As production ramps up, though, Skeleton is expecting to reach new customer groups.

A big opportunity is in the automotive sector, where there is growing interest in using ultracapacitors either with internal combustion engines or lithium-ion batteries.

“We have a number of projects where our customers are considering going down the hybrid route or just ultracaps,” said Ahlberg. “We’re happy to work with the new ideas out there, and that’s something that sets us apart.”

Short burst of energy

Currently, many work vehicles, such as diggers or forklifts, have oversized engines to deal with situations where a short burst of energy is needed.

Ultracapacitors could take over these jobs and allow manufacturers to reduce the size of a traditional engine, for example from 14 litres down to 8 litres, said Ahlberg.

Increased production will help further reduce costs, which Ahlberg said are already around the average for the ultracapacitor market.

“We’re able to compete on costs but we think our value lies at delivering more of a high-performance product at a comparable cost level,” he said. “We’re able to get better performance out of the cells.”

Skeleton’s 160V and 170V modules are also the market’s first water-cooled off-the-shelf products, he said.

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