The University’s School of Chemistry and Sunamp, a company that makes heat storage products that cut greenhouse emissions and heating bills, have won the Powerful Partnerships Award in the Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2019.
The partnership between the University and East Lothian-based Sunamp has been developing for more than eight years.
Environmental and economic impact
It has grown from a small consultancy project into a relationship that has created jobs, cut emissions from Scottish homes and provided opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate students. The company is now poised to move into large new markets.
The Knowledge Exchange Awards, organised by Interface, the national organisation linking Scottish business to academics, were presented in seven categories by Ivan McKee, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation.
“It is hugely promising to see such forward thinking and successful partnerships between Scottish companies and academia. These partnerships will help to drive a thriving and dynamic innovation ecosystem that is essential for improved productivity, competitiveness and growth.”
– Ivan McKee, Minister for Trade, Investment and Innovation
The Sunamp collaboration began in 2010 as the company sought to develop new heat storage technology using phase change materials (PCMs). The partnership has been supported throughout by Edinburgh Innovations.
Meeting of minds
When Professor Colin Pulham, Head of the School of Chemistry and Professor of High-Pressure Chemistry, met Sunamp’s founder and Chief Executive, Andrew Bissell, the two found common ground for materials research.
Through an EPSRC CASE studentship, PhD student David Oliver worked closely with the company, and within two years Sunamp had unique and world-leading PCMs. The company subsequently launched its first product.
Three PhD students from the School of Chemistry have subsequently been employed by the company, five undergraduate students have worked at Sunamp on year-long industry placements, and masters and undergraduate research projects have been inspired by Sunamp’s real-world challenges.
“Not only has this highly effective partnership resulted in the development of exciting new technology that is now on the market, it has also opened up new opportunities for University students and staff, as well as for the company. Moreover, it has led directly to new research discoveries that will undoubtedly have significant impact on greener energy production and consumption.”
– Professor Colin Pulham, Head of the School of Chemistry
Sunamp’s core Heat Battery product, based on Dr Oliver’s PCM, was trialled in the EastHeat project in Edinburgh and East Lothian in 2016, co-funded by the Scottish Government. Sunamp products were installed in more than 650 homes, reducing energy bills for tenants and cutting carbon emissions linked with heating.
“From the beginning, when Interface introduced us and we did the first piece of work together under an Innovation Voucher, Professor Colin Pulham and I had a meeting of minds on the value and impact of tackling the huge challenge in developing new Phase Change energy storage materials.
“We have solved the riddle of low cost, high energy density, long life, non-toxic, non-flammable PCMs. This works exceptionally well because of the ‘porous boundary’ between the teams which allows us all to work together ‘as one’. We have achieved massively – transforming heat energy storage. Further huge leaps are just ahead.”
– Andrew Bissell, CEO, Sunamp
The company has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer, Trina Solar, targeting the 66 million Chinese homes that are heated by coal. The aim is to convert the homes to solar-powered heat pumps backed by Sunamp’s energy storage product, so the heat is available whenever needed.
Sunamp, which had three staff at the beginning of the relationship, now employs more than 30 people, a number it expects to rise to 100 soon as the company scales up its operations.
Edinburgh Innovations has worked with the School of Chemistry and Sunamp to develop a model in which Sunamp owns the intellectual property, key to securing substantial equity investment, while giving the University a set of royalty rights, coupled with the ability to publish and jointly promote the technology and associated research.