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Heat storage collaboration up for global innovation prize

Sunamp team L-R: Maurizio Zaglio, Andrew Bissell, Dr David Oliver, Susan Lang-Bissell, Prof. Colin Pulham, Sandy Gataora
04 Jul 2024

A University/industry collaboration is a finalist for a prestigious innovation prize, alongside Google Deep Mind and the Oxford/AstraZeneca partnership.

Heat storage company Sunamp was founded using technology co-developed with the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry. The phase change materials they developed together has resulted in the world’s first commercially viable domestic heat battery, which provides an energy-efficient, space-saving alternative to the traditional gas boiler and water tank.

Sunamp is a finalist for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award for innovation, alongside Google Deep Mind’s AI-powered weather forecasting GraphCast and the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford partnership that rapidly scaled up Covid vaccinations.

The long collaboration between Sunamp Ltd and the University began in 2005 when Edinburgh Innovations facilitated a short project initiated and supported by Interface to develop phase-change materials (PCMs) for Sunamp’s heat batteries.

Collaborative research with Andrew Bissell, founder and CEO of Sunamp, led by Professor Pulham and then PhD student David Oliver, succeeded in solving long-standing stability issues associated with PCMs based on salt hydrates. This key breakthrough made possible the development of patented formulations that efficiently store and reproducibly release heat on demand, and enabled Sunamp to bring to market the world’s first commercially viable residential heat batteries.

Sunamp’s heat batteries can be charged with energy from almost any source, provide high-efficiency storage, and release heat on demand. Sunamp worked with UK housing associations to install heat batteries in 1,500 properties, which resulted in a 35% reduction in energy usage for residents at risk of fuel poverty. The company now has customers worldwide.

This year’s MacRobert finalists come from some of the UK’s fastest growing and successful sectors, each of which is crucial to the UK economy. UK registered companies in these sectors have a turnover of up to £111 billion and employ nearly 500,000 across their UK and international operations, according to The Data City insight.

Andrew Bissell at the Sunamp factory near Edinburgh

Andrew Bissell said:

Being nominated for the MacRobert Award is amazing recognition that underscores the profound impact dedicated teams can have on society and the planet, proving that with the right vision and determination even the smallest players can drive monumental change.
It has been a privilege to work with the likes of Dr David Oliver, who invented our stabilised formulation for Plentigrade phase change material; Maurizio Zaglio bringing fresh ideas from academia to model and refine the heat exchange process; Sandy Gataora bringing to bear decades of expertise from the world of HVAC and the whole team crossing disciplinary boundaries to bring something needed and new into the world. Overcoming these significant engineering challenges is not just an innovation, it’s a beacon of hope for reducing carbon emissions from heating and cooling around the world. "

MacRobert Award judge Dr Rajapillai Ahilan commented:

Sunamp and Edinburgh University have managed to solve a longstanding problem of repeatability and robustness of phase-change materials. It’s so inspiring because of its impact, not only for the net zero transition but also for the alleviation of fuel poverty. ”

The prize winner will be announced on July 9.

Related links

Read more about the MacRobert Award