Luxembourg-based Circu Li-ion is one of the latest tech companies to pick up the fight against climate change. We spoke to Co-Founders Antoine Welter and Xavier Kohll about the startup’s vision and journey so far.
Over the past few years, an increasing number of startups and venture capital firms has started to focus on finding ways to mitigate the effects of the growing climate crisis. More than ever before, entrepreneurs around the world are trying to reduce our global economy’s carbon emissions with innovative software and hardware solutions. One of these ventures can be found in Luxembourg: Since the summer of 2021, Circu Li-ion is fighting climate change by maximizing the lifecycle of cells used in batteries.
“We did not want to found just any company, our startup had to be one that tackles a big problem.”
The world is in need of more CleanTech – made in Luxembourg
Co-Founders Antoine Welter (CEO) and Xavier Kohll (CTO) knew each other from growing up together in Luxembourg. After both of them spent some years abroad, they reconnected last year thanks to their common interest in entrepreneurship.
Given his personal background as a strategy consultant and angel investor in Europe, Asia, and Africa, Welter has been looking into different industries and analyzing their potential for several years. In early 2021, he saw an opportunity in the recycling sector when he realized how unsustainable the supposedly clean electrification of our economy still is to date. He was looking for an expert to better understand the technological requirements for extending the lifecycle of batteries used for electric vehicles (EVs).
Kohll, who has a PhD in Chemical and Bioengineering from ETH Zurich, had just finished the renowned Entrepreneur First program in Berlin when Welter reached out to him to explore together the opportunity he had identified. Luckily, Kohll was not just an engineering expert with entrepreneurial ambitions, but he shared the same passion for wanting to make a positive impact.
After a detailed analysis of the battery recycling market, both were sure that it was the right sector for them to start a venture together – Circu Li-ion was born.
“We did not want to found just any company, our startup had to be one that tackles a big problem that really needs to be solved, such as climate change”, Welter emphasizes.
“Now it is time to roll our solution out to the market.”
Tackling e-scooters and e-bikes first
The problem that Circu Li-ion is solving is truly massive. With the growing number of EVs on our streets, an increasing amount of batteries is using up the scarce resources of our planet. While using e-scooters, e-bikes, and electric cars does not cause CO2 emissions, the production of their batteries surely does.
As the most common means for energy storage in EVs, Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries offer a big opportunity for making transportation clean. But they also pose a threat given the high amounts of energy used for their production and negative social impacts in countries where Lithium and other needed raw materials get mined. Re- and upcycling them in a sustainable way is crucial for the long-term success of electromobility.
„So far, Li-ion batteries do not get upcycled in large quantities as it is a highly manual and costly process to disassemble them and filter out the cells that could be used again“, Kohll explains.
Up to 80% of a used battery’s cells could have a second life though. This is where Circu Li-ion‘s solution comes in: Through an automated multi-step process, the Luxembourgish startup upcycles used batteries, enabling its clients to extend the sustainable use of their energy potential – while also saving them operating costs.
What makes Circu Li-ion’s approach unique is that its technology breaks each battery down to the cellular level, giving the cells a second life in a new battery. To turn the founding team‘s vision of creating a positive impact into reality, the startup is focusing on rolling out its solution to the micromobility sector as a first step.
„Given the ever-increasing number of batteries, we figured that there is a huge need for an efficient upcycling solution – completely automated and at industrial scale. For example, the e-scooter and e-bike market has exponentially grown around the world, resulting in a high turnover of batteries. Our Machine-as-a-Service solution optimally fits to the companies in this space as they can integrate it seamlessly into their existing operations”, Welter explains.
Some of the largest micromobility service providers in Europe have already started pilots with Circu Li-ion’s solution, as the founding team highlights.
“We are happy that CleanTech is high up on the agenda of the Luxembourgish government, the support through Fit4Start is invaluable for us at this early stage.“
Fit 4 Start and pre-seed investment
At a later stage, the startup plans to apply its technology also to other types of batteries, such as the ones of electric cars. Accordingly, there is a big potential for long-term growth.
“In the past months, we have been fully focused on proving that our technology works and hiring our core engineering team – now it is time to roll our solution out to the market”, Kohll highlights.
After all, fighting the climate crisis is a highly attractive value proposition – not just for saving the planet, but also for investors. In this regard, it does not come as a surprise that the Circu Li-ion team has already successfully closed a seven-figure pre-seed round to turn its vision into reality. “We brought successful business angels from all over Europe on board who share our vision of providing Circu Li-ion’s technology to as many industries and clients as possible”, Welter says.
But not just private investors have joined Circu Li-ion’s journey, also the Luxembourgish government has the young startup on its radar. The company is one of the innovative ventures that were chosen for the latest batch of Fit 4 Start by LuxInnovation.
“We are happy that CleanTech is high up on the agenda of the Luxembourgish government, the support through Fit 4 Start is invaluable for us at this early stage”, Welter states.