Demand for “clean” and “green” is blowing up across industries. And at the center of this eco-conscious movement is renewable energy, a space where innovation flows like water out of a dam. But renewable energy storage — the key to having solar energy available on cloudy days — still needs work. 

Qnetic’s answer is a storage system that converts electricity to kinetic energy in the form of a spinning rotor. The rotor keeps turning in a vacuum until the energy is needed again, when the process is reversed to release electricity. We reached out to founder and CEO Michael Pratt to learn how to improve the future and why Qnetic located its prototype in Germany.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Funding Round Details

Qnetic logo
Company: Qnetic
Security Type: SAFE
Valuation: $15,000,000
Min Investment: $200
Platform: Wefunder
Deadline: Jun 30, 2023
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What inspired you to take the leap and start Qnetic?

It started with the compulsion to help make the future great, focusing on tackling climate change. The future won’t automatically be great (and has the potential to be terrible), so we have to choose to make it great — but thankfully, that’s within our power. I and the other founder, Loïc, had a meeting of minds on this and decided to team up to do something valuable for the future of civilization.

We quit our jobs and formed the company but, at the start, we didn’t know what it would do specifically. The product came later — the outcome of blue-sky brainstorming on what the world needs and what we are well-suited to do. This blank sheet of paper was exciting, inspiring, and liberating.

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Loïc and I have been friends and collaborators on construction art projects for Burning Man events for several years. We found we worked really well together, so a company was inevitable.

Loïc’s spent many years designing wind turbines and knows Dr. Mathias Mier from this network. Mathias is an engineer with a focus on quality, supply chain, and problem solving, with lots of experience and connections in the renewables field.

We connected to Macolm Mathews through the American Chamber of Commerce’s Sustainability Committee. Malcolm has extensive top-level business and finance experience in multinational companies.

All four of us are full-time and have invested our own money. We’re blessed to have such a broad and highly experienced core team.

How is Qnetic competing with the most widespread energy storage solution, lithium-ion batteries?

Qnetic is simply better than lithium-ion (li-on) batteries for the crucial application that will enable the transition to renewable power. This application is “daily energy shifting,” which is one to two discharges per day of four to 12 hours.

Qnetic’s efficiency is similar to li-ion, but Qnetic has lower capex, never degrades as you cycle it, and lasts at least 3x longer than li-ion batteries, so it’s much cheaper overall. Even by 2030, when li-ion batteries have a predicted cost decline, Qnetic is projected to be cheaper. Its long life and low cost are game changers for daily energy shifting.

Additionally, Qnetic plans to build out its own storage facilities and generate revenue from them for 20 or 30 years, which will feed further investment in Qnetic storage facilities. We can install at much lower costs and wouldn’t need to convince customers to buy Qnetic over li-ion.

How is Qnetic competing with other types of daily storage such as redox flow batteries, compressed air, pumped hydro, or concentrated solar power?

It comes down to cost. We need to compare levelized cost of storage (LCOS) over the lifetime of the storage asset. Within that levelized cost are capex, opex, charging (electricity), losses (further electricity), degradation, and end-of-life costs. The comparison needs to be done at a given discharge duration.

To transition to solar and wind, we need a four to 12 discharge capability cycling once or twice daily. In this regime, Qnetic is projected to be significantly cheaper than any mature scalable technology we know of!

Don’t just take our word for it: Energy storage expert Dr. Oliver Schmidt of Imperial College London (independently via Imperial Consultants) performed a levelized cost analysis and found Qnetic’s LCOS to be $101 per megawatt hour (MWh) vs. competing li-ion technologies’ $164 per MWh in a 2030 projection.

Who is your closest competitor with flywheel technology and how do you differentiate from them?

The leader in long discharge duration is a company called Amber Kinetics, and it has the only flywheel product we know about that is capable of discharging for four hours. There are several vital differences:

  • Qnetic’s capacity is 62x higher, making Qnetic a product fit for the bulk energy shifting application. Qnetic takes up a similar amount of land compared to li-ion batteries.

  • Qnetic’s rotor — the part that stores the energy and represents the core feature of flywheels — is made from ultra-strong, super-lightweight composites and not from heavy steel. Light weight is critical for spinning faster because you have less centrifugal force. If you tried to reach Qnetic’s energy capacity with steel, the rotor would weigh more than 200 tons compared to Qnetic’s 17 tons. This light weight also enables the rotor to be floated on a magnetic cushion for its bearings. Pretty smart.

  • Qnetic is a very low-cost solution, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom for traditional flywheels. Figuring out how to make a very large flywheel with huge capacity and a very low cost is the groundbreaking thing Qnetic is doing, and we can’t reveal the secret sauce here!

Why did you choose Germany over other locations for your prototype?

Three reasons:

  1. We want the initial prototypes and pilot battery plants to be accessible to the world. People need to see them working, and Germany is an accessible location.

  2. There is excellent high-tech manufacturing in Europe and especially Germany for the special components and processes we need.

  3. My colleague Mathias is very well connected to the renewable power industry there, resulting in a letter of interest from a wind turbine test site to install and validate Qnetic in the real world, which is very exciting.

If we talk again in 18 months, what milestones will you have achieved?

The key value events for the current round of investment are patent filings and the one-fourth-scale prototype. We want to complete the prototype with an optimized combination of expedience and engineering value.

We look forward to seeing where Michael and his team take the company. Qnetic is currently raising on Wefunder.