Battery System Landscape for Industry

Expert Interviews – Thursday, July 1, 2021
Michael Schnakenberg, CEO of Commeo GmbH

Commeo, a company in the German region of Lower Saxony, was selected as a finalist for its modular system for industrial operations. Customers can choose between pouch cells and cylindrical cells with four different chemical compositions. The founder and CEO of Commeo, Michael Schnakenberg, explains why 400 variations can be useful and where there is room for innovation in the storage industry.

You didn't just submit one product for the ees AWARD but rather an entire "system landscape”. What’s behind that?

It would be too shortsighted to only look at Commeo’s solutions in terms of individual products. The customer-oriented, practical approach of our systems requires a completely individual design of the battery systems for each area of application. Our system landscape, as we like to call it, covers all possible use cases in industrial production that lend themselves to the use of a lithium-ion storage device. At the same time, the industrial environment, with its norms and standards, is the ultimate benchmark in stationary battery-based storage systems.

With our system landscape, we have managed to combine the maximum safety requirements of the industry with the highest quality standards. And the result is clear: We are able to adjust our solutions specifically to every need using only minimal infrastructure. Unfortunately, this is often underestimated when it comes to conventional storage systems.

Your modular system contains cylindrical cells with two chemical compositions, and of these, up to 140 can be interconnected. This year, pouch cells have also been added to the mix, also with two possible chemical compositions. Up to 28 pouches can be connected in one block. Why did you add the pouch cells? What characterizes your different cell options?

Generally, we offer a so-called “Power” and “Energy” option for every module. That applies for both cylindrical cell and pouch cell blocks. The pouch cell is actually the real “prototype”. Although the installation of pouch cells is the most complicated of the cell formats, it also provides the best results when done properly. For example, as a result of the flat shape, the best possible thermal conditions can be achieved with the right know-how. And this in particular is critical for the service life of lithium-ion cells.

In addition, our NMC pouch cells have a substantially higher cycle stability than other formats, with up to 10,000 cycles. Together with our development partner XALT, we have been able to achieve the highest possible energy density in our modules and at the same time also conform to the highest standards for functional safety. All of our modules, whether with cylindrical cells or pouch cells, meet “Performance Level D” standards. Moreover, using integrated flame arresters for our pouch modules, even in the case of a severe accident, we can prevent the spread of a fire to neighboring modules or cabinets.

Your goal seems ambitious: You want to create the “most flexible lithium-ion battery system available on the market”. For this purpose, you “abandoned old ways of thinking and took a new approach”. Which ways of thinking are outdated in your opinion and what is your approach?

In our view, it’s out-of-date to think that one product can do everything. A single, perfectly fitting system for all application use cases in all companies simply can’t exist. It’s like the difference between a tailor-made suit and mass-produced clothing. The cost-driven use of mass-produced components without customization options doesn’t lead to the desired results. For this reason, one single type of cell chemistry is never the solution for all problems. Each cell chemistry has its own unique area of application. Branching out beyond this area becomes uneconomical.

But with home storage systems and large megawatt storage farms, it’s different. Due to low technical demands, cost-effective standardizations could be created quite quickly. In contrast, industrial and commercial applications are based mainly on special business projects and therefore have intrinsically higher demands for technical implementation.

Our approach is based much more strongly on development, production, individual consulting and services from beginning to end – all from one provider. Beyond that, our take-back program ensures a closed cycle of value creation, environmental friendliness and sustainability. And because of our strict “Made in Germany” philosophy, we are completely independent in all matters related to development, production and resource acquisition.
With the user in mind, we take the view that a battery storage system should be just as normal as an average switching cabinet. We want to make the integration into existing energy and systems infrastructure as simple as possible. To do this, we ensure maximum safety for our installers and end users, unrestricted compatibility with industrial standard interfaces as well as the best possible energy management functionality.

What was the key moment? When and how did you realize that the storage market needed something new?

Originally, the battery system was part of a research project that I led. The project had to do with range optimization in electric cars. The core idea was a battery change system for cars. At the time, I was also responsible for several industrial clients. That led me to compare the compatibility of such systems with those in the industry.

After further research, I realized more and more that there wasn’t an integrated system approach in the industry because nobody had put in the effort to design such a complex battery system landscape. There were always just solutions for individual applications. That meant that the energy storage industry continued to act like an independent, somewhat defiant “fortress”.

The goal of Commeo is to provide every installation company access to battery storage systems. For this to work, an integrated system landscape had to be created, which – regardless of application – follows the same installation pattern which is as simple and safe as possible. Today, the result is Commeo’s completely integrated, highly sophisticated battery storage system, which has effectively created new standards and is completely unique in the battery storage market.

Your SME and industry customers can put together a storage system with a rated voltage ranging from 48 up to 800 volts. Performance or energy powered. There are more than 400 possible variations. How can potential clients, who likely have a completely different area of expertise, even decide what makes sense for them? Can’t it be a bit overwhelming to have so many options?

To put it simply, consultation is key. Every conceivable system design is suitable for a particular application purpose. Sometimes, however, it’s also necessary to combine systems for different applications, depending on requirements. That then goes beyond the mere specifications of the system.
Requirements must be defined through conversation, that is, a need can be recognized, in order to create one or more “tailor-made” solutions with the modular system. For this reason, our consultants have a software that has been specially designed by our company to discuss and define the design of each system directly with the customer.

Commeo also offers a whole series of pre-configured standard systems. Through market screening, we have succeeded in developing a standard solution for every system available to the market, but with better technical features.

Which of the components are based on your own research and development? Which do you manufacture yourself?

As a member of several political committees and standardization bodies, Commeo is always at the forefront of the latest developments. And our especially close customer contact also constantly leads us to pursue new approaches and develop new solutions.

Since all of our business processes are carried out internally, we are also able to directly integrate feedback and new requirements into product development. For performance, installation, handling, and service, this allows us to react on a daily basis.

In addition, Commeo only has one supplier level. All of our suppliers must themselves also be manufacturers with specific know-how. This is the only way to ensure that the desired adjustments can be implemented quickly and competently. Similar to the automobile industry, we are in possession of all the tools needed for each step of the production process. With the exception of the actual battery cells and a few other small parts, all of the components we install are developed internally. That not only applies to mechanical hardware but also specifically to the battery management system, the safety control units for electronic hardware, and software. Thus, Commeo is 100 percent independent.

Moreover, Commeo has its own testing facility with systems for cell cycling as well as system emulators for electronic hardware and test units with up to 250 kW capacity.

Finally, Commeo cooperates closely with several other leaders in the industry, such as Rittal, XALT or Harting. Together we are able to develop the best possible components for our customers.

You highlighted your cooperation with the enclosure manufacturer Rittal. What is so important / special about it?

The enclosure system VX25 is the epitome of an industrial standard, and consequently of course, they are the market leader in Europe. It offers tremendous flexibility in the design of the enclosure, for indoor and outdoor options, in relation to air-conditioning systems or even with regard to the high demands of the food industry.

We have taken all of this into consideration with the Commeo system landscape. Anyone who is already using Rittal’s components, can immediately begin working with our battery systems.

In the end, the installers’ experience with the VX25 enclosure system is important for the planning, installation and configuration of the Commeo systems and also provides even greater acceptance.

You advertise that your energy storage blocks have a “novel and efficient thermal management”. Tell us more about that.

Under load, batteries create heat which must be dissipated in order to maintain full functionality. In other systems, this is done through integrated or external cooling systems, such as water cooling. Such peripheral devices cost money and are often not considered when making a purchase.
Commeo energy storage blocks, however, do not require such additional cooling under normal climatic conditions because constructive measures have been implemented to effectively dissipate the resulting heat via the enclosure. All of our battery storage systems have been tested with a continuous load, especially those which are designed for a discharge rate of over 4C. Thus, it is simply unnecessary to have such peripheral devices for the cooling of the system components.

Of the possible applications such as emergency back-up power, peak shaving and charging infrastructure: Which are the most important?

As a result of the redundant mode of operation, Commeo battery systems are excellently suited for every multi-purpose use. But of course, the application requirements of the customers determine the areas of use. Economic advantages can be found primarily in peak shaving and in UPS, to reduce energy costs on the one hand and on the other hand to avoid costs related to production losses.

And needless to say, the environmental advantages are extremely important to us: For us as an industrial manufacturer, it is very important to contribute to decarbonization and actively protect our environment. We accomplish this in particular through the use of energy storage for charging infrastructure for e-mobility and in combination with renewable energies. In these areas, energy storage systems play an important role in grid stabilization and compensate for the unavailability of renewable energy forms at certain times of day.

Commeo began in 2014 as a start-up at the InnovationsCentrum Osnabrück, and today you are a battery system manufacturer with over 50 employees in Wallenhorst, near Osnabrück. Where do you see your company in five years? What are your long-terms goals?

This year, Commeo will make its debut as an active player in the Italian, Polish, Scandinavian and Benelux markets, moving beyond the German-speaking regions. Moreover, we plan to cover all of Europe within the next two years, and at the same time, we are also preparing to enter the American market.

Along with that, we are building a new operating site, which will be developed through multiple phases of construction. The aim is to establish a European center for industrial energy storage that is able to provide manufacturing capacity for substantial gigawatt hour level production and also has an adjoining technology center for research and development.

Also, many of our new products are ready to be integrated into our existing portfolio and will help to greatly optimize the uninterruptible power supply. Finally, we are further expanding our product range for energy management and continue to advance direct integration with industrial applications.

Will you be presenting for the first time at the ees Exhibition / The Smarter E?

Together with Rittal, we already had a shared booth at the sister exhibition Intersolar in 2016.

Why did you apply for the ees AWARD? Are you already making use of the fact that you’re a finalist? What would you do if you were able to bring the ees AWARD home to Wallenhorst?

After many years of research and development, in the last twelve months we have finally reached the point at which our products completely meet our own high standards. Such a prestigious award like the ees AWARD would not only be great for our reputation and for marketing opportunities but would above all be an affirmation and acknowledgement of each and every employee’s unrelenting commitment and effort. For this reason, it would please me most of all for our team if we received the award.

Of course, we plan to use the nomination for external and internal communication and to build our image. Being among the finalists is certainly a reason to celebrate!

ees AWARD Finalists 2021