Head-to-head with Carolyn Hicks at Brill Power

A recent resident of OCFI, Brill Power is going from strength to strength. We spoke to Head of Finance, Carolyn Hicks, about the company and its developments in battery design.

New kid on the block Brill Power, a University of Oxford spin-out, is developing the next generation of advanced battery control and management systems.

The business began when current CEO Christoph Birkl, an engineer, had a lightbulb moment when he broke open a discarded computer battery and found that half the cells were still usable. Christoph realised there was a major flaw in battery design.

Carolyn explains: “Lithium-ion batteries lose their ability to hold charge as they age. Because of the way conventional batteries are connected and controlled, once the weakest cell no longer holds enough charge, the battery pack becomes useless and is thrown away. Christoph found that this means that more than fifty percent of cells from discarded battery packs are still useful.”

Christoph and colleagues Damien (Frost) and Adrien (Bizeray) – all from the same university research group and with three DPhils in engineering between them – clocked the opportunity and set to work to solve the problem. And solve it they did…

Carolyn says: “Brill Power’s innovative technology connects battery cells individually to a management system so that it uses the all the capacity available in the cells gives the pack up to sixty percent longer lifetime.”

“Our control and management technology allows complete energy management and utilises the available capacity of each and all the cells in a pack. This results in longer battery life, improved reliability, improved safety, and the potential to save millions of tons of CO2.”

Brill Power was kick-started by a small grant from Climate-KIC in 2015 and this is when Carolyn, who has an MBA from the Saïd Business School, joined the team. The business became part the of the Climate-KIC accelerator programme in 2016 and at that point formally incorporated. It was further helped by winning the Shell New Energy Challenge in 2017 and our very own Venturefest Oxford pitchfest competition the same year.

The technology (hardware and software) the company has developed is most effective for large batteries – like those used for grid storage for renewables or batteries for electric vehicles. They are now undergoing an intense period of testing and developing a pilot system in partnership with a battery pack making company before going into production. The potential is huge. Grid-scale energy storage is estimated to reach $1.4 billion globally by 2020 and from 2022 the electric vehicle market is expected to grow at 42% per annum.

Brill Powers’ biggest challenge over the next couple of years, says Carolyn, “Is finding the right people with the right skillset to expand the team.” But she adds: “We are optimistic as Oxford attracts great talent.” The second challenge is getting their product to market. They expect to enter the grid-scale energy storage market in 2020 and the EV market in 2022.

Brill Power is now working out of OSI (Oxford Sciences Innovation) offices on Park End Street but Carolyn says: “Having a virtual office at OCFI was instrumental to our start up. The affiliation with Oxford Centre for Innovation gave us kudos in the first years that is hard to find and, on a practical level, a company address and a phone number. It meant we could operate successfully without having to invest huge sums in office space and it connected us to the local entrepreneur network”.

And the name, Carolyn told us it came out of a company cycle ride to Brill, just 12 miles east of Oxford. Their logo – in a very abstract way – incorporates part of the distinctive windmill at the top of Brill hill, right in the centre of the village. Their innovative battery design is obviously “brill” too….

If you want to find out more about Brill Power, visit: https://www.brillpower.com

If you’d like to be interviewed for our head-to-head series, email Georgina Matthews on [email protected]