NEW YORK — Sixteen years after he first came up with the idea on a hike and numerous setbacks later, Aaron LeMieux, founder and CEO of sustainability focused startup company Tremont Electric, is finally ready to debut version 2.0 of his company’s only product to date: the nPower PEG, a flashlight-shaped backup battery meant to help provide clean power to people’s handheld electronics in a jam.
“We’re in a very transitional period,” said LeMieux, an avid hiker, mechanical engineer and former startup consultant, in an interview with TPM in New York on Thursday.
Tremont’s PEG stands for “Personal Energy Generator,” and differs from other backup battery packs in one key way: It passively generates power from a user’s own kinetic energy — that is to say, their own physical movement, be it walking, running, climbing stairs or even biking. Put the PEG upright in a handbag or backpack, and the device’s internal magnet generates energy from the up-and-down jostling and stores it for use later on.
The actual energy output of the PEG varies considerably from person to person and activity to activity, but roughly speaking, 1 minute of walking produces enough electricity to power an Apple iPod Nano for 1 minute. It takes 10 to 26 minutes of walking to power a much more power-hungry smartphone for a minute.
PEG 2.0 weights just under a pound and is compatible with all mini-USB devices, including Android and Apple mobile devices (Apple through an adapter cable). It costs $170 and will go on sale in the next few weeks on Tremont’s website, according to LeMieux.
“Everything we learned in the first version is going to be incorporated into the new one,” Aaron continued. “This is meant to be a mass-produced device.”
Version 1.0 of the PEG was a hit at $160 per unit, selling out within months after it first debuted in 2011 and winning some devoted fans in the hiker/backpacker community, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported.
However, Tremont, a Cleveland, OH-based company was frustrated because version 1.0 was also meant to be a mass-produced device, but the fellow Ohio company that Tremont had contracted to make the internal, custom lithium-ion battery inside the PEG couldn’t deliver the volume of batteries that Tremont needed to keep up with demand.
All in all, Tremont ended up selling just “a couple thousand” units of the PEG version 1.0 over nine months, according to Jill LeMieux, Aaron’s wife and Tremont’s VP of Marketing.
But now Tremont has partnered with a new battery supply company and is ready to unleash PEG 2.0 on the world.
Tremont, a small firm, is capable or producing 1,000 PEG units a month and can scale up quickly if demand increases from there, the LeMieuxs told TPM. Eventually, they want to scale the technology up and down to produce self-powered pacemakers and passive wave energy converters for lakes.
Still, the LeMieuxs acknowledge challenges with the cost of each PEG and with convincing skeptics about its potential. Tremont’s profit margin on each PEG is 20 percent right now, but the company is working to make it larger without increasing the cost of the device.
The LeMieuxs are also still seeking investors and marketing partners, which explains why they were in New York on Wednesday, presenting their company at a conference at the NASDAQ headquarters.
“What surprised me throughout this process was how difficult it’s been to raise funding,” Aaron told TPM, “I’m the guy who invented [the PEG], and potential investors were treating me like I had three f***ing heads.”
Correction: This post originally misspelled “LeMieux” as “LiMieux.” We’ve corrected the post in copy and regret the error.