Founded in 2020, florrent has developed a range of ultracapacitors made using regenerative biomass rather than fossil fuels or imported coconuts. The Massachusetts-based startup was established by Jose LaSalle, Joe Hastry and Alex Nichols with the ultimate goal of supporting the global transition to renewable energy.
“Our core mission is to contribute to the well-being of people and the planet,” says LaSalle. “We envision florrent as a cornerstone of the just energy transition to a resilient, renewable, and equitable energy economy supported by regenerative materials.”
A worthy ambition indeed. In 2022, the world’s energy-related emissions reached an all-time high of 36.8 Gigatonnes, endangering our hopes of achieving net zero. If global temperature increases are to be kept below the limits of the Paris Agreement, then renewable energy capacity must be quadrupled by 2030.
The industry’s expansion faces several challenges, however, not least of which is the intermittent nature of energy sources such as solar or wind. In order to provide a reliable and consistent supply of clean power, there is an urgent need for energy storage solutions.
Although the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources will undoubtedly help to lower global emissions, it is also important to avoid the trade-offsof excessive material consumption and wastage. Ultracapacitors are able to store a large amount of electrical energy, but they are typically made with materials derived from unsustainable fossil fuels or from coconuts grown in Pacific regions.
florrent’s ultracapacitors make use of regenerative hemp
Rather than relying on fossil fuel by-products, florrent’s ultracapacitors are made using activated carbon derived from hemp that has been cultivated using regenerative methods. The company has built up a network of farmers from black, indigenous and other coloured (BIPOC) communities, providing sustainable livelihoods while encouraging the use of farming techniques that support the natural sequestration of carbon.
By using hemp, florrent is able to localise the production of its materials rather than importing coconuts from areas increasingly impacted by climate change. With hemp’s rapid growth, the feedstock remains highly abundant, withstanding the growing threats to existing supply chains.
Hastry explains that florrent’s ultracapacitors offer high-capacity storage in the standardised form factor used in industrial settings. This gives them the flexibility to deliver more energy without increasing their footprint or to operate in a smaller form factor. With their high energy density, they can also accommodate applications requiring maximum power.
“Florrent’s next-generation ultracapacitors will stabilize electrical grids and address critical bottlenecks for the adoption of renewable energies, electric vehicles, and electric buildings,” Hastry claims, highlighting the technology’s diverse range of use-cases.
“The greatest need for high energy density ultracapacitors comes in rapidly decarbonizing sectors,” he continues. “wind and solar on the power generation side, and buildings and EVs on the power consumption side.”
“These sectors are increasingly using lithium-ion batteries for stable electric power, but this comes with a problem: lithium-ion—and in fact all battery technologies—are susceptible to “electrochemical shock” if they try to charge or discharge too quickly.”
When hybridised with batteries, ultracapacitors can help solve this problem by providing insulation from injurious power spikes. In order to ensure that hybrid energy storage systems are economically viable, the energy density of ultracapacitors must be able to scale alongside the batteries they protect.
The $15 billion opportunity for ultracapacitors
According to the US Department of Energy, the global ultracapacitor market could be worth a staggering $15 billion by 2030. The demand for rapidly responding energy storage is dramatically surging, with applications spanning a number of industrial processes as well as transportation and improved grid stability.
Capturing a share of the market
Aiming to capture its share of this market, florrent has raised just under $3 million to date through a combination of pre-seed investment, grant funding and contributions from friends and family. Its initial fundraising round was led by MassVentures, with participation from AIN Ventures, the MassMutual Catalyst Fund, GAINTECH Capital, Tale Venture Partners, Next Fab Ventures and the Boston Impact Initiative.
As with any startup company, florrent is likely to experience certain challenges as it gains traction. Indeed, LaSalle acknowledges that ultracapacitor manufacturing is an extremely capital-intensive industry, with lengthy lead times between sales and grid-connected commission. Nonetheless, florrent’s founders remain optimistic.
“We envision GW+ of our product deployed across the world, sequestering gigatons of carbon into the soil, rebuilding depleted land and bringing generational stewardship back into the hands of BIPOC communities, creating wildly successful rural economies over hundreds of millions of acres,” Hastry anticipates.
“At florrent, we are not just striving to unlock a world powered by clean energy – we believe that how we get there and who we bring along on the journey are just as important.”
The company’s next big milestone will be the commercial validation of performance improvements made to its cylindrical cells, enabling it to scale its material production capacity. By 2030, it hopes to be producing tens of millions of cells every year, using thousands of tonnes of its activated carbon material. As the business continues to grow, so too will the economic prosperity of its partnering farming communities and the volume of carbon sequestered.
In addition to expanding its network of farmers, florrent is collaborating with academic institutions including the universities of Massachusetts Amherst, Washington and Oregon State. Other partners such as the Battery Innovation Center, Genoverde Biosciences, Greentown Labs and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will also lend their support.