Two new cutting-edge technologies with the potential to make a very significant contribution to carbon reduction efforts have been brought to market with the support of Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund.
UCD spin-out Plasmabound has developed a new process for bonding composite materials which will enable automotive and aircraft manufacturers, among others, to substantially reduce the weight of their products, with consequent fuel efficiency and carbon reduction gains.
And Nexalus, a spin-out from Trinity College Dublin, is primed to become the leading solution provider for sustainable cooling systems which will capture the heat generated by data centres and put it to good use.
I started to consider a world where we could capture the heat energy produced by data centres and turn them into energy borrowers rather than just consumers
"I have always worked in thermal heat transfer," explains Nexalus founder and chief operations officer Dr Cathal Wilson. "In 2017, I read an article in the Economist calling data centres the oil industry of the future. When I read that they were using air cooling systems, I was blown away. No pun intended.
“That probably came about because energy was very cheap in the US at the beginning of the data centre industry. There was also probably a fear of using water or other coolants, but air is a terrible coolant. I started to consider a world where we could capture the heat energy produced by data centres and turn them into energy borrowers rather than just consumers.”
The Nexalus technology, which ironically uses hot water to cool the CPUs in a data centre, can capture up to 80 per cent of the energy consumed by a data centre and use it to support food production, district heating schemes and carbon capture systems.
The use of composite materials to reduce the weight of aircraft and cars is well known. Fibre-reinforced thermoplastic composites are stronger and considerably lighter than both high-strength steel and aluminium. The problem with composites is the difficulty in sticking them together. The thermoplastic layer effectively rejects an adhesive. This means that manufacturers have had to use metal fixings to put them together.
"A small 30-seat aircraft contains about half a tonne of metal fixings," notes Plasmabound CEO Alan Barry. "Our technology can save as much as 1.1 litres of fuel per 100km in a car."
It achieves this through a new technology which, non-destructively, removes the outer layer of the composite and exposes the fibre layer beneath. This allows the efficient bonding of the composite components without the need for metal fixings. It’s also much faster and more efficient.
“Traditional processes are highly manual and very slow,” says Barry. “Our technology can replace six workstations with one automated station.”
The Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund has played a key supporting role in both cases.
“The Commercialisation Fund is aimed at supporting the best and brightest academic researchers to commercialise their ideas,” says Barry Fennell, senior commercialisation specialist with Enterprise Ireland. “It’s all about helping researchers to develop solutions the market is looking for. We support them over two to three years and help them build out teams. Investors want to see the right skillset in the team. They want to see the right technical and business skills for a journey that is non-linear and often chaotic.”
Enterprise Ireland couldn’t do it on its own, he adds. “It’s like selling a house. Everyone wants it to be sold but there are a lot of steps to go through before it can happen and there are a lot of stakeholders involved. The academics, young postdoc researchers, the technology-transfer offices, the taxpayers who want to see strong start-ups emerging, and the investors who are looking at how quickly they can get a return. They are all part of it and Enterprise Ireland brings them all together.”
“Commercialisation Fund support helped us take the idea all the way to a working prototype,” says Plasmabound’s Barry. “It also helped us do some early market research which enabled us to build relationships with potential customers. Business is excellent. We have 273 qualified leads who are definitely interested in the technology, 56 of whom are actively assessing it.”
“The Commercialisation Fund enabled us to kick off a whole lot of science and research and helped us to convert the research outputs into a product for the market,” says Nexalus’s Wilson. “It also enabled our engagement with investors and allowed us to build a science and engineering company.
“Business is very good. We are speaking with some leading global multinational computing companies about acting as consultants to supply them with cooling solutions for their servers. There will be an announcement in the next few months of Nexalus being chosen as the supply partner for a major multinational.”