What are you aspiring for?
We want to enable the private homeowner to produce their own fuel from CO2 directly at home. The only things needed are atmospheric CO2, water, and electricity. Thus, people can become really independent from centralized energy supply such as fossil fuels (oil and gas). When combined with renewable energy sources, or system, this can also act as a seasonal storage system. For example, during summer, PV installed on the roof can generate energy, all of which is not consumed entirely, so you can store this energy with our willpower-energy™ system, for use in winters.
Why are you doing this?
We believe that everyone should be self-reliant and independent.
They should not have to depend on third parties. Particularly in energy sector, an active participation of each individual and a democratization of the supply is appropriate.
We believe that technologies can help us in more ways.
They enable us to address the great problems of humanity. And we believe that with the use of new technologies, we have a good chance to solve these problems. Discussing and criticizing alone does not help us.
We believe that people should be at the centre of our focus.
Here, too, bans do not help us in the area of energy supply. Rather, a great impact can be achieved if the right economic impulses are set and the needs of the individual man, whether economic or emotional, are taken into account.
How likely is it that such a complex project works at all?
We left the lab at the end of 2014. All the technologies that we use in combination are scientifically and extensively validated. The challenge that we face now is to make our technology usable for our customers.
We want our solution to work on a long-term basis and to be economically attractive to everyone. At the same time, our system should also meet the requirements for user-friendliness, and design of modern home appliances and an intelligent house.
This is a lot of work and we need your support.
How do you want to enter the market? Do you want to set up your own sales network? Do you want to build your own production facility?
Our goal of bringing out a marketable application from our pilot system is a challenge that we face. For this, we will use co-operation with established companies in areas of sales & marketing. Besides the market access, these companies also have the right attitude, and share our values and ideas. They are also driven by the same motives. Without these similarities, cooperation is not conceivable for us.
How will you make money with it? How do you earn money now?
For our willpower-energy™ system, we aim to participate in the sales with the help of strategic partners. We make money by one-time sale of our system and repetitive sale of our enzyme reactors. For this, with the help of partners, we conduct direct sales, or sales through sales-licensing model. We remain the original equipment manufacturers (OEM). Gensoric's core know-how, especially the technology of exchange reactors, is not given to the outside world.
At present, we are making money through sales in development projects for science and industry in Europe. The technology in this work has a partial overlap with our willpower-energy™ project (which is our main focus), since the technology is aimed at the use of our patent-protected research platform in the field of electrochemical synthesis. Although these projects represent a kind of basic financing for us, they still do not allow us as a company to implement the willpower-energy™ project on their own.
However, we are very privileged to have obtained EU funding for pilot plants and test series (EU-SME Instrument Phase 2). We are proud for this, since, only the most innovative and promising projects from all over Europe participate and compete against each other. The chances of success are approximately 5%.
This budget, to a large extent, allows us to support the willpower-energy pilot project. However, 30% co-financing is required. And that is exactly what we would use your investments for.
Enzymes / Biochemistry
Enzymes are a complex biological system. This is not as easy as you think.
Yes, the complexity of these biotechnologies is incredible. It is precisely for this reason that we are so proud that with our technology, we can prove the functionality and commercial use of these molecules, especially in the field of CO2 conversion.
We are supported by the experts from the Fraunhofer Institute IGB from Straubing, and the TU Munich. Our colleagues and partners in these premier institutions have through years of experience, built up an indispensable expertise in the field of catalyst development for CO2 conversion, which we can now use for our pilot plant at willpower-energy™. Also, for our pilot testing under real conditions, the Fraunhofer Institute produces the enzymes for us.
Enzymes break down at higher temperatures.
More correctly, certain enzymes prefer certain temperatures at which they reach their maximum performance. We have investigated these effects together with colleagues from Fraunhofer Institute and saw that we were able to achieve a significant increase in performance through targeted heating of the reaction surfaces without destroying or damaging the enzymes. And even without requirement of genetic re-engineering.
This is the result of the research work of our co-founder Dr. Flechsig, who has been dealing with the interaction of heat, electrical energy and biomolecules for more than 20 years. This work has led to more than 50 scientific articles and 15 patent applications.
Is it not possible to simply scale up enzymes? Their behaviour is not linear. Scaling up on an industrial scale is a science in itself, highly complex and expensive.
That's right. However, we are familiar with this biotechnological production system on a small scale. Why abandon this controllability, only to achieve greater output? Therefore, we scaled "discreetly": instead of making the entire biotechnological system larger, we increase the number of reactors in the size we already know. Maybe the efficiency decreases a little bit, but we gain high flexibility, very short response and adaptation times of the system.
The activity of enzymes is highly complex. This takes a long time until the enzymes are as powerful as they are needed.
Yes, and that is why we rely on the experience of our scientists. Be it founder Dr. Flechsig, who has been working on this topic of electrochemistry and biomolecules for about 15 years, or our partners at the Fraunhofer Institute, who have done great deal of research for several years on the topic "Enzymes as biocatalysts for the conversion of CO2". The main fact is that actual underlying reaction was already described in the 1990s, so we are not starting from the scratch.
What does the production of enzymes cost? Is that expensive?
In contrast to precious metal catalysts, the manufacturing costs of the enzymes depends "only" on the production technology and the production volume, and not on the limited natural availability or access to the resources. Thus, the enzymes can be produced practically indefinitely. For cost comparison, similar enzymes are produced on a large scale (tons per year) for dishwashing products or for the production of foodstuffs. The cost of these enzymes is marginal for the final consumer, in the single-digit cent range. For us, this is also possible as we reach scale.
How does the energy get into the enzymes?
This task is not trivial. The key is to attach the enzymes molecules to the electrode surface. This means that we must ensure the molecule is mechanically "stuck" in place and cannot not slip. On the other hand, the attachment must not impair the biochemical reactivity as well as the electric conductivity. The procedure we used for this purpose is protected by our core patents and is based on several years of research.
CO2 / H2
Where do you get the CO2? Our atmosphere has only 0.04%.
That's right. Our approach does not work directly without enrichment. For this we have partnership with Skytree (a spinoff from “European Space Agency”). This Dutch company is working on the development of a device that can be used to extract CO2 directly from ambient air with ease and efficiency. Originally, this technology was designed for use in International Space Station (ISS) to collect and neutralize the CO2 that accumulates over the time because of breathing by space station inmates. We are now using this space technology in our everyday approach.
How do you want to produce hydrogen? In the methanol, there are hydrogen atoms, you must produce them somehow?
For other power-to-X approaches such as the production of artificial natural gas (methane), hydrogen gas (hazardous and volatile) must always be used. Due to the increased risk of explosion and the difficulty in storage, it is not particularly suitable for use in private / non-industrial sector.
Our approach therefore completely dispenses the use of hydrogen gas.
But we still require hydrogen atoms for the reaction. Since, the reaction proceeds in the enzyme, an aqueous solution which is a precise catalyst, it can "put-together" the hydrogen atoms step by step into the methanol molecule. The conversion is a reason why we need electrical energy.
Electrical energy / Efficiency / Prices
How much power is in 1 litre of methanol?
The amount of power available is determined by the device used for the purpose. A direct methanol fuel cell available in the market produces, for e.g. 1.1 kWh of electricity from 1 litre of methanol. However, the same amount of methanol can also be incinerated in the furnace and that would provide 4.345 kWh of heat.
What is the efficiency of the unit?
The core process i.e. the electrochemical conversion of CO2 into methanol, requires only relatively little energy. After considering other components such as the CO2 enrichment, separation and miscellaneous components, energy requirements however, increases. But, on a small scale, we have already achieved an efficiency of up to 60% for systems in smart housing applications. As an input variable, we relate electrical energy consumed to the thermal energy generated by the combustion of methanol. This also is aligned with our favoured application.
What is the storage capacity?
Through our system, we want to enable seasonal energy storage. But in our case, the energy is not stored in a battery. But rather, methanol allows us to produce, and store sufficient amounts energy for which can easily suffice water and home heating requirements for several weeks, or even months. 1m³ of storage area (which is possible in every house) is equivalent to about 900 litres for methanol. This is sufficient to meet average heat requirement of a family home for minimum 3 months.
Can I use the willpower-energy™ system if I do not have PVs? What happens if my PV system is too small (power)?
The use of our system in combination with supply of electrical energy from the main grid can also create economically attractive possibilities for owners of small power plants, and also for those who do not have any PV systems.
How can you ensure access to the electricity markets?
The key to this is the intelligent and automated purchase of electrical energy either at the cheapest prices, or the remunerated supply of surplus energy from the utility network. This can be achieved with the help of components from the smart metering industry. In cooperation with a regional energy supplier as well as a hardware supplier, this can also be realized for private customers.
If you want to burn the methanol, it must have the purity of natural gas. How do you get it?
This cannot simply be compared. Methanol is a liquid. Because of that, concentration of the methanol in the aqueous solution is of importance. By using separation processes (the easiest is a sort of distillation, the most energy-efficient membrane separation process), the methanol can be separated from the water. Depending on the type of use, the required methanol content in aqueous solution can vary. If you burn it directly, you need approx. 40-50% mixture; when used in a methanol fuel cell, a lower methanol content can be sufficient.
How do you ensure the permanent running of the device?
This is the challenge and the goal set during our pilot phase. We want to show that such a complex system works without intervention and maintenance. It is not just a question of the stability of the catalysts, but rather, we want to demonstrate the flexibility of the entire process and answer doubts like: Can it be started or stopped in the short term in order to deal with short lead fluctuations? Can the processes in the individual components coordinate with one another? Is the CO2 enrichment always parallel to the CO2 conversion? Can a temporary storage be optimized for this?
Why should I change my heating system when it has been running flawlessly for more than 10 years?
First of all, one should distinguish between new installations and the conversion of existing installations. New installations are easier to implement, as procurement and installation can already be taken into account during planning. In this way not only the room plan can be prepared, but also the entire energy concept of the house can be aligned (smart home).
In the case of retrofitting, legal framework conditions and financial grants within the scope of the EEN can be a source of motivation for people. Be it components for self-use of electricity from own PV installations, or regulations for energy efficiency and consumption in residential houses. Also, a ban on use of oil and gas in heating in new installations (as in Denmark since 2013) can, which can also happen in Germany, motivate retrofitting.
How do you manage sales? How do you want the service and maintenance done?
We will not do this alone. We will not focus on building a wide network of distributors and servicemen in the beginning, but rather, we will opt for strategic partnership with firms that have access to the users and capacity to install our system and maintain it.
During this time, within our team, we will focus more on product development.
Competition / competitor / duration
Are you the only ones who can do this? Who else has the similar solution in market?
On the industrial scale, there are a certain number of companies active in the area of power-to-liquid or direct air capture / CO2 utilization. It is common for them to deal with relatively large volumes of CO2 (input) or hydrocarbon compounds (output). Their processes run very efficiently, but requires complex plant and process technological conditions, such as high temperature (500 - 700 ° C) and pressure (200 bar) requirements. This is something that is not fit for homes or household setting. Furthermore, these approaches cover only one part of the entire value chain: either the capture of CO2 or the conversion. Lack of a business model that could cover utilization of the final product (methanol in this case) renders these companies and users unsatisfied.
We, on the other hand, are the first ones to propose an integrated approach, covering all parts of the value chain, which can actually be used. We have the answer to the question: what do I do with the resulting methanol?
Do you have patents?
Yes, we have protected the individual components of our system through international patents. In addition, we are in preparation to file more patents on upcoming product developments. Much of secret know-how related to technology, e.g. Parameter knowledge, is valuable solely due to our research and non-publication. This strongly prevents our competitors from replicating it.
What do you do when someone else does something similar?
Despite the patents, we can never rule out the possibility that others are trying to copy our approach. But we can also deal with this: we can look for cooperation. This way, it is possible to complement each other much better. Likewise, we can further distinguish ourselves in the market by seeking cooperation in non-hard technological things such as user experience, usability, design, and etc. Finally, the secret know-how of our technology and expertise of our employees, is not so easy to copy.
How long does it take for the unit to be sold?
The goal is to have our pilot plants (2-3 pieces) tested in different settings during the next two years. After that, all technical requirements will be fulfilled in order to address the roll-out of the system with other partners. For us and our investors, this means that all the necessary suppliers and partners along the entire value chain are on board with us. In which regions and countries we will start depends very much on the choice of our partners.
What is the risk of failure?
The risk of failure is, of course, existent. Everything else would be a lie. Precisely because we are aware of this risk, we have aligned our entire planning and work to minimize these risk right from the start. Above all, this involves extensive technical risk management. For each individual component, we asked ourselves, "What will happen if component X does not deliver the desired performance or the required energy efficiency?" After this consideration, if the estimated risk (probability and impact on the overall success) was too large, we set ourselves to find another solution for the component.
With this approach alone, we have handled and fixed more than 200 individual risks at the product and company level, even before the start of the project. Our Quality Management system (according to ISO 9001) also supports us in risk management.
It is also equally important for us to get feedback from outside, be it from potential users, or from experts in industry and science. This exchange of ideas and information is also an essential building block in our pilot project. This is the only way to regularly review and implement our approach with feasibility, consistency and plausibility. Without this exchange with external experts, the risks would be greater. But, with this exchange, they are predictable.
You have minor industry experience and are a small company. How do you do that?
This alone is not to be mastered. In order to make it happen, we have spent a very long time working with the right strategic partners from the industry (energy suppliers who share our values and visions). Only in this way can we profit from their expertise, and their technical and economic skills, and put our plans into practice.
(©2017, Gensoric - willpower-energy; 31.07.2017)