Revterra is developing a zero friction flywheel energy storage system using high temperature superconductors. Sound like the future? It is!
Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, championing Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Here today with several new energy companies, and I’m very pleased right now to be with the founder and CEO of Revterra, Ben Jawdat. Ben, welcome to the show.
Ben: Thank you.
Russ: You bet. Tell us about Revterra.
Ben: Revterra is developing a long duration energy storage system based on flywheels. So, it stores kinetic energy instead of chemical energy. Unlike lithium ion batteries, for example, the charge carrying capacity doesn’t degrade over time, so you don’t have to replace every five to seven years. There’s a host of other benefits as well.
Russ: Long duration; how long?
Ben: We’re looking at 4+ hours.
Russ: Ok. So, this is a flywheel. How big is the flywheel?
Ben: The initial system that we’re developing right now is pretty small, but the MBP that we’re planning is going to be around a meter diameter, it’s going to weigh about a ton, but it’s all relative. So, compared to chemical batteries, it’s actually a bit of a savings in terms of weight.
Russ: Ok. So, it’s powered by the energy source that you’re storing in it, but there have always been flywheels around, and there still are today. What makes yours different?
Ben: The main innovation that we’re introducing is on the magnetic bearing system. So, flywheels, as you mentioned, have been around a long time. One of the limiting factors has been the bearing system. That limits the efficiency, it draws energy away from the flywheel system, so we’re developing a passively stable magnetic bearing system that significantly increases the efficiency of the flywheel system, allowing us to move out from some of the niche applications that flywheels have traditionally been limited to and addressing a much larger long duration energy storage market.
Russ: How does that actually give you an advantage?
Ben: The wheel actually isn’t in physical contact with any of the other parts, so there’s absolutely no friction.
Russ: Zero friction?
Ben: There’s zero friction, yeah. But the part that we’re really innovating on is the energy required to eliminate that friction. And we reduced the energy required to do that.
Russ: Describe passively stable.
Ben: Passively stable means that it doesn’t require these actively controlled electromagnets that flywheels have typically relied on for levitation. We use permanent magnets, and something called a high temperature superconducting material to stabilize the flywheel, allow it to levitate without this extra energy and control system which has traditionally been used.
Russ: So, who are your customers?
Ben: Customers that we are initially looking at targeting are large utility companies, but there are other applications that we may look at, such as back up power supplies for industry, and I think we’ll get a better idea of those once we develop our initial system.
Russ: Do you ever think that you’ll get down to the individual home?
Ben: Yeah. I think that could certainly be a future application. At the initial scale—at the initial time, we’re looking at larger applications, just because the technology scales much more easily at larger sizes, but I think in the future we can look at that.
Russ: I only bring that up because I’m familiar with the wall, the battery, and so you would be in competition with that.
Ben: That would be, yes.
Russ: Very interesting. So, what’s the status of the company? How long have you been in—you’re probably not in business yet, or are you?
Ben: We’ve kind of been incorporated officially for a year and a half. We built a small benchtop demonstration system. We’ve reached out to some potential customers. Right now, we are on the verge of building a larger prototype system to really demonstrate the technology and scale it up from there.
Russ: I’m always curious about businesses like this. What triggered the idea for you, Ben, and said, hey, I’m going to do this?
Ben: The initial idea came about while I was in grad school. Originally, I was thinking about making a wheel that had no physical contact between the wheel itself and the axle, and eventually we took that same idea and after some refinement, figured out that flywheel energy storage might be the best initial application of that, but there’s certainly other applications of the technology.
Russ: Going to grad school where?
Ben: At University of Houston.
Russ: Ok, and are you going to be sort of appealing also to the solar and wind companies as well?
Ben: Yeah, for solar and wind, energy storage is an integral part of the technology. The sun only shines during the day, wind comes sporadically, so you have to even that out over time. That is really our main target customer, is the utility companies that use solar and wind or maybe even the wind manufacturers that need to integrate some kind of energy storage in their technologies.
Russ: Have you received funding, are you bootstrapping, what are you doing?
Ben: A little bit of bootstrapping, a little bit of angel money from last year, and now we’re kind of toward the end of raising some funding to build our prototype system.
Russ: Ok, good luck on that. We’re here today, too, to hear and get an overview of Greentown Labs that’s looking to come to Houston. What did you think of Greentown Labs?
Ben: I think it’s a phenomenal idea. I think it’s really needed in Houston for the Houston startup ecosystem. It’s something that’s missing right now.
Russ: And had you heard of it before or was this your introduction?
Ben: I heard of it about a year ago when I met Jason at a similar event. He was just starting to get an idea of what the interest level was, and it seems to have progressed a little bit since then.
Russ: Ben, I really appreciate you sharing your story and I want to wish you good luck, too.
Ben: Thank you.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Ben Jawdat, of Revterra. And this is HXTV.
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