The brainchild of French entrepreneur Adrien Lelièvre, the Pi-Pop e-bike uses a supercapacitor to store energy rather than rely on batteries.
If riding a bike on a daily basis is too much of a challenge for you, you might be tempted to opt for an e-bike.
The issue with those is that the production of the batteries consumes a lot of natural resources such as lithium or rare-earth elements which require extensive and often environmentally impactful mining procedures.
French entrepreneur Adrien Lelièvre, however, has engineered a pioneering, sustainable solution.
Fitted with a supercapacitor
The inventor, who has a background in electronics, designed and patented an e-bike called Pi-Pop, one that doesn’t use lithium batteries but supercapacitors.
“The system gets charged when the ride is easy and when the bike brakes – thanks to engine braking – the energy is given back when needed,” Lelièvre, the director of STEE, the company behind the bike, told Euronews Next.
To put it simply, a supercapacitor works by stocking energy in an electrostatic way, or by way of a slow-moving charge. In contrast, a lithium battery stocks energy as a chemical reaction. In other words, a supercapacitor can stock and release energy very quickly when it is needed. In the case of its bike, it means stocking energy when the person pedals or brakes and using it to assist more difficult actions like restarting or uphill riding.
Lelievre estimates that the assistance offered to the rider by the bike’s supercapacitors is enough to handle an elevation gain of 50 m if charged on a flat beforehand, making it suitable for around 80 per cent of European cities.
The concept of a supercapacitor is not a new innovation in itself; the first ones were manufactured at the end of the 1970s. Today, they are used in photovoltaic systems (such as solar panels), digital cameras and some hybrid or electric vehicles to improve their performance.
It made sense for Lelièvre to use the technology in bikes.
‘A symbol of sobriety’
According to him, the 20 kg Pi-Pop “really is a symbol of sobriety”.
“Always wanting more, meaning wanting to go faster, adding more energy… this is a dead-end,” he said.
No rare earth materials are used in the bike’s production as supercapacitors are made of carbon, conducting polymer, aluminium foils, and pulp – materials for which recycling processes already exist.
There is no need to wait for the bike to charge either, another perk compared to the classic e-bikes. The company also claims that the supercapacitor’s lifetime ranges from 10 to 15 years compared to five or six for a lithium battery.
The bike – now a third-generation design – is currently assembled in Orléans. Being locally produced in his native France was important for Lelièvre whose career was built in the French electronics industry.
“I think we can’t innovate if we lose control of production,” he said. “When we talk about sustainable development, ecological transition, and energy transition, we need to provide the jobs,” added Lelievre whose company employs 25 people.
Currently, Pi-Pop produces 100 bikes a month. In the future, the company aims to to produce a thousand bikes monthly by 2024.
Lelièvre also has European ambitions.
“In 2025, we want to target the European market, we are currently discussing potential fundraising,” he said.
Cracking this nut could be a huge opportunity for the company as the EU imported 1.2 million e-bikes and 5.2 million non-electric ones (five times the amount exported), according to EU data agency Eurostat.
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