Laval-based tech start-up is on the cutting edge during Small Business Month

WattByWatt is working with students to help disrupt how we power electronics

The revolutionary technology of a Laval-based tech startup, with some help from local university students, is leading towards a potential breakthrough that may one day mean you never have to plug in and charge your cellphone – because all you’ll need is light.

Based on Armand Frappier Blvd. in Laval’s Cité de la Biotech, WattByWatt was launched in January 2021 to produce renewable energy from light using perovskites, a naturally occurring mineral that is now being seriously considered as the future of solar cell technology.

Verging on breakthrough

WattByWatt says it is on a mission to produce energy from light efficiently and reliably. The company claims its patented technology, called Perovton, is on the verge of changing forever how everyday household and industrial devices are powered.

WattbyWatt’s core team. From the left: Robert Necula, Soroush Hafezian, Ibrahima Ka, Ivy Asuo, and Riad Nechache.

According to the company, the research is being propelled partly through an internship program funded by Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada while providing students with opportunities to work on real-world, leading-edge projects.

Working with the INRS

In order to help bring its flagship product to market, WattByWatt is working with three Mitacs interns from the nearby campus of the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) as well as from the University of Sherbrooke.

“The magic of this new photovoltaic material is that it works indoors,” says Pierre Des Lierres, WattByWatt Business Development Director, explaining that his company’s renewable energy system — financed by an initial funding of $4 million from private equity investors assisted by WhiteHaven Securities — harvests both natural and artificial light, then converts it into energy.

Recharging small devices

“Our technology means we can recharge small electronic devices like cellphones and remote controls, smoke detectors, and retail tags with the light energy we already pay for in our homes, offices, or industrial buildings,” he added. “At the same time, we’re eliminating the need to replace batteries, which will significantly reduce the billions of batteries that currently end up in landfills each year.”

In just two years, WattByWatt has grown to ten employees and is currently seeking an additional $25 million in funding as it gets into gear to scale up manufacturing. The value of tapping into cutting-edge research expertise at an affordable rate is huge, said Des Lierres.

Mitacs ‘a game-changer’

“The Mitacs internship program is a game-changer for us,” he said. “With the support of Mitacs, we’re procuring a leadership position for Canada in the renewable energy sector by training and hiring high-quality talent here.”

Laval-based WattByWatt has developed breakthrough technology to convert light to energy

WattByWatt, said to be the only Quebec firm developing a perovskite solar cell solution, is first in the world to patent a manufacturing process that enables the product to be made outside of a high-cost clean room, says the company. As a result, they expect manufacturing facility and production costs to be significantly reduced by as much as 50 per cent, allowing the technology to become widely accessible.

New research facility started

This month, WattByWatt is breaking ground on a 5,000-square-foot research development lab and pilot production facility in Laval that is expected to be up and running by March 2023. The first application will be a very small, yet powerful photovoltaic cell that measures less than one square centimetre and can produce more than one volt of charge from a 25-watt bulb, achieving a high efficiency rating.

Potential applications for this new energy system range from charging cellphones or Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, to powering the beacons and smart RFID tags found on items in the supermarket, to charging outdoor cameras or household WiFi networks. Currently, the company is in discussions with other corporate entities to adopt Perovton in their next designs of electronic products, and the plans are to commercialize within two to three years, said Des Lierres.

Positive eco-impact foreseen “If we can get this technology into every cellphone out there, for example, the environmental impact would be enormous,” he said, noting that it takes just under two kilowatt-hours of electricity per year to charge a single phone. “When you multiply that by the estimated 6.6 billion smartphone users globally, that’s a lot of energy we can save by removing the need to plug into the grid.”