Gerhard Cromme (79) has a new job. The ex-co-CEO of thyssenkrupp and former Chairman of the Board of Siemens will head the advisory board of the Berlin battery start-up Theion. The Norwegian investor Stine Rolstad Brenna and Osman Dumbuya, CEO of the software company Incari, are also moving into the newly created body with Cromme.
Theion advertises with a real miracle battery. With the solid-state battery from Berlin, for example, electric cars could drive three times further than with the lithium-ion batteries that are currently in use. But how is that supposed to work?
The key is in the material. In the cathode, the negatively charged electrode of the battery, Theion does without raw materials such as nickel, manganese or cobalt and uses crystalline sulfur instead. A material that, unlike the battery components mentioned, is “abundant” and “99 percent” cheaper in comparison. In addition, sulfur can be extracted in an environmentally friendly manner and can store significantly more energy.
Carbon nanotubes should also increase the conductivity of the cathode. They also use a solid electrolyte instead of a liquid one. The energy density can be 1000 watt hours compared to 300 watt hours for lithium-ion batteries. Only a third of the space required for the well-known gigafactories and 90 percent less energy is required for production. The investment costs could also drop by a third.
What is the catch?
With so many supposed advantages, the question immediately arises as to what the catch is. The promises of the company founded in 2020 are still gray theory. The miracle battery is in the research stage, in the coming months Theion wants to “drive the development forward”. Series production is scheduled to start at the end of 2024, and according to its website, the start-up expects mass production in 2027.
The team around CEO Ulrich Ehmes initially has companies in the aerospace sector in mind as customers. Later, the “mobile batteries” will also be used in portable devices and vehicles. In the past, Ehmes has stated that he would also like to join Tesla would knock to introduce the technology.
Various start-ups keep promising batteries with gigantic energy density. So far, however, none of them have made a breakthrough. With new types of rechargeable batteries, the main question is their reliability. Batteries must be stable, especially when charging and discharging. Ehmes told the “Wirtschaftswoche”: “Instead of the previous 20 to 30 charging cycles, we need at least 500 or more than 1000.” If Theion cannot prove this, there is a risk of the end.
Air taxi industry as the first customer?
This happened to Envia about ten years ago, for example. The supposed miracle battery of the founders Sujeet Kumar and Michael Sinkula, which the car manufacturer General Motors as an investor turned out to be a flop. After only three charging cycles, the performance of the prototypes decreased significantly. Envia was eventually wound up. Today, Kumar and Sinkula are dreaming of the super battery again with their start-up Zenlab – and have, for example, the German air taxi start-up Lilium on the hook
Theion can also imagine using its batteries in air taxis. The company’s main investor fits in well with this: Lukasz Gadowski already holds shares in the three air taxi start-ups Archer, Autoflight and Volocopter with his holding Team Global. He himself once appeared as a co-founder of Delivery Hero in appearance. He describes the inclusion of Theion in his portfolio as “extremely synergetic”.
And Gerhard Cromme? After his illustrious career, which also gave him supervisory board positions, for example at alliance, Lufthansa and eon brought in, the 79-year-old has developed an increased interest in start-ups in recent years. For example, he is the chairman of the supervisory board of Auto1. Cromme says of his new additional job: “Theion has convinced me that sulfur – without extensive mining, at low cost and with a high energy density – is by far one of the best alternatives for a powerful battery, and that with a locally secured supply. ” He wants to help take the company “to the next level”.
So far, Theion has been working from Berlin, but the start-up’s roadmap already includes expansion plans for Europe, Asia and the United States. Sounds like an expensive endeavor. A well-connected industry veteran like Gerhard Cromme can certainly help with the search for financiers.