Drawing interest from environmentally conscious consumers and green-minded bike riders, the Pi-Pop is a sustainability-focused e-bike that doesn’t use regular power cells. This design usurps traditional li-ion power with an innovative design that substitutes an eco-friendly supercapacitor in its place.

The French invention has been credited to the mind of Adrien Lelièvre. His idea may pave the way for the replacement of e-bike lithium batteries. This means no more bike batteries laced with landfill-toxic chemicals and no more mined rare metals to harm the environment. Having said that, what kind of charging and energy specs are locked inside a supercapacitor? Do they really have what it takes to replace high-density lithium batteries? Let's take a look.

Source: Maryana/Adobe StockSource: Maryana/Adobe Stock

A little background on e-bike capabilities

E-bike performance relies on a light frame and an energy-dense power supply that can generate enough torque to keep this healthy activity fun and productive. There are three classes of e-bike to consider, which vary based on speed, pedal assistance and rider controls and instruments, like throttles and speedometers.

As a main sticking point, however, the torque for these nifty two-wheelers is nearly always provided by a lithium-ion battery, which is recharged by plug, or potentially in small amounts be regenerative kinetics or solar.

E-bikes batteries see many of the same technical challenges as EVs. For riders long range is important, as is a fast charge. A small battery that slots into place and doesn't interfere with the bike’s balance tends to have limited range. A large battery weighs the bike down and makes it more difficult for the bicyclist.

There are other, non-performance related issues. For example, expensive mining processes pollute land when extracting rare metals like lithium. This is a significant blemish for a technology designed to be an eco-friendly replacement for a car. Then there are certain dangers that have been associated with e-bike batteries, including fires, although such unpleasant quality control issues rare and caused by low-quality batteries

Anchored by stationary charging cables

A few e-bike models are capable of taking a small measure of a rider’s physical kinetic energy and convert them into a replenishing trickle charge, thus boosting range or speed, using anything more than a small percentage would add user difficult and defeat purpose of the machine.

So, e-bike lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries are charged from a wall outlet. Just like any other electric vehicle (EV) of this type, e-bikes, up until now, need to be stationary and connected to a charger of some kind.

If a cross-sectional cut could be made to one while it was charging, a chemical soup made of rare metals would be seen storing the charge. It’s a relatively slow charging process, and these chemicals age with each charge and re-charge cycle, before ending up in some landfill, where a cobalt or nickel leak poisons the Earth below. Again, e-bikes can’t fully earn their green status until lithium batteries are ousted.

French-made e-bike packs green power

The supercapacitor in the French-built Pi-Pop is entirely different. Instead of chemical energy storage, the device utilizes the principle of electrostatic energy charging. The charge is held between dielectrics and foil plates, conductive polymers and electrolytes.

Just like the solid-state capacitors built into electronic circuits, supercapacitors charge rapidly. They also have a longer lifespan than a lithium battery, meaning no short usage cycle and landfill dump. These devices are as clean as they are energy efficient, making them a truly sustainable option for powering e-bikes.

A frugal two-wheeled energy management solution

As illustrated in any battery maintenance guide, including this one, there are a number of remainingissues to be aware of when managing a battery-powered e-bike. The Lelièvre-designed Pi-Pop leaves all such problems behind. There are no storage cells to charge, no chemical soups or toxic rare metals.

Better yet, the device charges when a rider is pedaling. Now in its third-generation of development, the European market has plenty of room for an electric bicycle that can handle a few medium-grade hills and gentle, electrostatic generating descents on the other side of those inclines.

The smart design comes into play on the Pi-Pop when a three-way incline mechanism is leveraged. Imagine it on a flat surface, where minimal energy is siphoned to the supercapacitor. Climbing uphill, all power is directed to the electric motor, but energy is recovered on the other side as the bike freely descends. Finally, regenerative braking absorbs and stores more electrostatic power.

It’s an elegant use of supercapacitor energy storage properties, with power stored on downhills and turns that require aggressive braking. Then, the newly stored energy is released on level roads and uphill climbs.

Finishing the super-electrostatic bike hike with tech talk

Adrien Lelièvre builds his Pi-Pops in Orleans, France. Potential customers should be excited by the news but not so much that they put in an immediate order. Right now, the Orleans facility is building 100 supercapacitor-equipped e-bikes a month, but they expect to ramp up their production numbers to 1,000 a month as 2024 unfolds.

A click on their own supercapacitor link would be advantageous to those of you who enjoy picturing engineering challenges. Electrochemical double-layer capacitors (EDLCs) are the Pi-Pop’s power source. These EDLCs are fast to charge, well-suited for numerous applications and they don’t age out like lithium batteries.

Even if they did have a short lifespan, EDLCs are filled with carbon and common polymers, materials that are abundantly available and not ecologically harmful. Remember that the next time you go shopping for an e-bike. The way of life promised by e-bike manufacturers right now is green, but it’s still a battery-powered machine. The French-designed Pi-Pop e-bike substitutes sustainable supercapacitor energy in place of that potentially toxic battery.

Batteries, they’re built on expensively mined rare metals. Replaced with an eco-friendly electrostatic charge, your e-bike is transformed into a cleanly powered class one road glider. Exhilarating to use and fun to travel with, the Pi-Pops is electrostatically green-powered all the way.