Press release | 21.6.2022
Munich, 21 June 2022 - The European Patent Office (EPO) today distinguished Estonian researchers Jaan Leis, Mati Arulepp and Anti Perkson with the European Inventor Award 2022 in the "Industry" category. The Estonian invention significantly improves the efficiency of battery-like devices known as supercapacitors or ultracapacitors, which store energy as static electricity and can charge and recharge in a matter of seconds. This technology has quickly attracted attention from the transport and electricity grid industries.
"Technological innovations are signalling a way forward in the global transition to a greener economy. I am delighted to recognise today the achievements of Jaan Leis, Mati Arulepp and Anti Perkson whose inventions are helping industries reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and take a crucial step forward in the fight against climate change," says António Campinos, President of the European Patent Office.
The Estonian team were honoured at the European Inventor Award 2022 ceremony, a hybrid event watched online by a worldwide audience. The Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes and is presented annually to outstanding inventors from Europe and beyond who have made an exceptional contribution to society, technological progress and economic growth.
To improve both the power and energy density of supercapacitors, Leis, Arulepp and Perkson optimised the properties of a material called curved graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms that take a form similar to a crumpled up piece of paper which gives it a higher surface area on the electrode and so a higher density to transmit power. The result is a so-called ultracapacitor that can charge within 15 seconds and withstand over one million charge cycles, according to the company. With a high chemical purity, it is free of the toxic materials commonly found in other battery/capacitor technology, such as lithium or cobalt. According to Skeleton Technologies, the company founded by Leis, Perkson and colleagues, this ensures reliability and limits their environmental impact.
Supercapacitors are well suited to applications that require large, short bursts of power such as load-lifting in cranes. In 2018, Skeleton Technologies began testing ultracapacitor-powered trams in three German cities (Mannheim, Heidelberg and Ludwigshafen). By capturing braking power and reusing it for acceleration, the ultracapacitors resulted in electrical energy saving of up to 30%, according to the company.
The inventors say that these real-world applications drive their research. "We always have had this idea when we develop something in the lab; it has to have real value," said Jaan Leis. "This is a big difference from scientific articles - you always find something new, but is it applicable to real life?"
Jaan Leis has a PhD in theoretical and computer chemistry from the University of Tartu, and began working as a chemist-technologist in Tartu Technologies in 1999, while continuing his role as a researcher in the university. Leis left in 2008 before co-founding Skeleton Technologies in 2009. Since 2021 he is also an Associate Professor in Molecular Technology at the University of Tartu and continues to work as a consultant at Skeleton.
Mati Arulepp has a PhD in physical and electrochemistry from the University of Tartu. He began his career at the research institute Tartu Technologies, where he spent time during his PhD studies. He subsequently worked at Carbon Nanotech before later joining Leis and Perkson at Skeleton Technologies in 2010 as a lead scientist. Since 2016 he has been a technical expert at the company.
Anti Perkson graduated with a PhD in Chemical Physics from the University of Tartu. In 1998 he began work at Tartu Technologies as a research scientist. In 2009 he co-founded Skeleton Technologies with Leis and others. In 2013 he then joined the company as their Chief Technical Officer and since 2016 has served as their materials science consultant.
The European Inventor Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, the award honours individuals and teams' solutions to some of the biggest challenges of our times. The finalists and winners are selected by an independent jury comprising former Award finalists. Together, they examine the proposals for their contribution towards technical progress, social and sustainable development and economic prosperity. The EPO confers the Award in five categories (Industry, Research, SMEs, Non-EPO countries and Lifetime achievement). In addition, the public selects the Popular Prize winner from the 13 finalists by voting on the EPO website in the run-up to the ceremony.
This year, for the first time, the EPO is also awarding bright young minds with the Young Inventors prize. The new prize offers a monetary reward to the three finalists to further encourage them to find creative solutions to pressing sustainable development challenges.
With 6 400 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO's centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world's leading authority in patent information and patent searching.
Luis Berenguer Giménez
Principal Director Communication, Spokesperson
EPO Press Desk
Tel. +49 89 2399 1833