A small Estonian company aims to conquer the world

Skeleton Technologies, a Tallinn-based company that develops and produces ultracapacitors – extremely powerful energy storage devices – aims to become the leading ultracapacitor manufacturer within five years.

Skeleton Technologies started to grow in 2009, when, after years of development work, the young entrepreneurs, Taavi Madiberk and Oliver Ahlberg, decided to take the technology created by Tartu scientists into production. Madiberk, the CEO of the company, explains that they have experienced very rapid growth in the last five years: “Everything has gone according to our plans, and in some ways we are even ahead of our plans.”

Photo by Mihkel Maripuu Postimees

At the beginning of 2014, Skeleton participated in the Norway Grants Green Industry Innovation programme, which was looking for Estonian companies to develop globally ambitious green IT projects together with Norwegian companies, and received funding from the Estonian-Norwegian cooperation programme, Green Innovation Estonia, to develop the next generation of “smart” ultracapacitor modules.

Skeleton Technologies also received nearly 1.5 million euros worth of funding from Enterprise Estonia.

Standardised plug-and-play solutions for a variety of markets – from UPS to heavy transportation – will lower the cost of ownership for customers. The specified features – from voltage and temperature monitoring to application-based energy profiles – are class-leading and increase the efficiency and reliability of the devices. Skeleton has involved the Norwegian company NX Tech, which specialises in bringing breakthrough technologies to the market (their previous partners include Th!nk, Citymotion, Cisco and others), as a partner to field-test the modules in Norway.

How have the investments to the company helped develop it and what exactly has the company managed to do so far? Madiberk says the investments have been pivotal for the development of the company. “High tech production is a field that requires a lot of money and we have managed to bring out a new generation product,” he said.

Brains in Estonia, production in Germany

Today, the company’s headquarters in Tallinn employs over twenty people – the “brains” of the company – and product testing takes place there. Although the company currently produces ultracapacitors for sale in Tallinn, the production volumes are still low. According to Madiberk, larger production will take place in Bautzen, Germany, where currently preparations are under way. The production lines will open in the second half of 2015, if everything goes according to plan.

The reason the company will move the production to Germany is the fact that a fifth of the world’s market for ultracapacitors is based there, the customers are closer and it is easier to find qualified workers. “If we want to compete with Asia in Europe, Germany is the best option,” Madiberk points out.

The German subsidiary of the Estonian company received funding from a local support programme where the total cost of their project was nearly 14 million euros.

There is no danger of the company moving its development group from Tallinn to Germany. Madiberk claims the current working group has proven its worth and he sees no reason for moving.

Achievements to date

Skeleton’s team includes four people with doctoral degrees. One of them is the Vice President of Production, Kai Vuorilehto, who has several years of experience as Chief Technology Officer at European Batteries Ltd, where he led technology development and production set-up at one of the most technologically advanced li-ion battery production facilities in Europe. Recently, a battery industry veteran, James P. McDougall, was appointed to serve as a non-executive director with a focus on global business development.

According to Madiberk, Skeleton’s biggest successes are its cutting-edge proprietary technology and high-profile customers, ranging from the European Space Agency to leading players in the European automotive industry. The company’s cooperation with ESA started in 2011 and they have just negotiated the next contract.

Madiberk claims that the most important characteristics of ultracapacitors are their functionality, resilience, size and mass.  Thanks to patented technologies, Skeleton has a real advantage in these areas over its competitors. “After all, every gram counts in space,” he says.

Skeleton Technologies’ ultracapacitor

  • Life cycle 15 years and up to a million life cycles. Normal batteries last a couple of thousand cycles.
  • Working temperature between -40°C and +65°C.
  • Much smaller than competitors’ products; hence production costs up to 50 % less.
  • Fields of use: transport, military, renewable energy and space industries.
  • Five patents and 16 patent applications in process in Europe, the US and Asia.

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About the author: Life in Estonia

Life in Estonia is a quarterly magazine, which covers all Estonian walks of life - from business and economy to tourism and culture. It focuses on in-depth coverage rather than short news value. The magazine is published by Estonian Investment Agency / Enterprise Estonia, a state organisation that ensures competitive business environment for foreign investments in Estonia and develops international business relations. Find out more on www.investinestonia.com