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400,000 euros for energy disruption from the garage

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400,000 euros for energy disruption from the garage

If you describe him as a crazy professor in the laboratory garage, then on the one hand you are using a cliché, but on the other hand you are hitting the nail on the head. Because the Austrian chemist Stefan Ostermann is in his garage in Traismauer, Lower Austria, researching several disruptions in energy storage at the same time with his startup Proton Accumulator. His big goal: to enable batteries to cost 1 cent per kWh and charging cycle.

Anyone who hears that he wants to revolutionize the lead battery commonly used in combustion engines, develop a molecular sieve for methane gas and at the same time want to reinvent the heat pump might quickly think that he is a megalomaniac – and it is impossible to verify from a distance whether this is the case that everything is like that.

If it weren’t for SPRIND. This is the German Federal Agency for Leap Innovations, which has been promoting disruptive technologies since 2019 based on the model of the US research agency Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, which is significantly involved in the development of the Internet). And because she also promotes abroad, she gave Ostermann’s company Protonen Accumulator two validation orders worth 200,000 euros each.

“CO2 freedom and energy storage”

“These orders are validation orders intended to validate the potential of a possible innovation. The two validation orders now address key technologies for overcoming the challenges of the energy transition such as CO2 freedom and energy storage,” says Julius Keil, project manager at SPRIND.

What is Ostermann working on in his basement in Lower Austria? On the one hand, he wants to “make the lead battery lead-free,” he says. To do this, he replaces the lead grids that are used as electrodes in commercially available car batteries with coated carbon fibers. This is “cheaper and more environmentally friendly”, and replacement materials are also being worked on for the plus poles. “The lead battery is far from dead, but is widespread worldwide,” says Ostermann, referring to the advance of the electric car.

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His startup Protonen Akkumulator is not only busy with lead-free lead batteries, but also with the development of a molecular sieve that can be used to split methane gas (which has been spurned since Putin’s war in Ukraine) into hydrogen and carbon. “This allows you to convert methane gas into hydrogen relatively easily and, above all, locally,” says Ostermann. As a precursor to a gas boiler, carbon can be separated and collected in a bag and the hydrogen used for heating.

This could be possible for the end customer for 1,000 euros. What he is developing is “of course a transitional technology,” says Ostermann. “A hydrogen infrastructure is certainly better, but we are relying on the gas infrastructure, which is still widely used.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Ostermann also has a third, very young project in store. He wants to reinvent the heat pump: He could produce an electrochemical liquid with a high energy density in the summer, which would then produce hot steam in the winter, which could then be used again for heating. This is cheaper than any heat pump commonly used today, with less energy loss. He even wants to spin off his own company based on the idea, with the evocative name “Free Energy”.

“It would also be nice if we found an investor”

You can see: Storing renewable energies is Ostermann’s passion, regardless of whether it is electricity or heat. The chemist derived the name of his company from the substances hydrogen and sulfuric acid with which he works; That’s why the protons became the namesake. The two SPRIND orders are essential for the crazy professor from the garage to become a serious innovator. Partnerships with universities are intended to build additional trust. “It would also be nice if we found an investor so we could turn up the turbo.”

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The Austrian chemist then illustrates the fact that he is working on technologies that are explosive in both senses with an old chemist joke. “Do you know the difference between explosives and a battery? Except for the separator between the electrodes: none.”

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