Commercialising Heat Storage Systems: A Business & Engineering Collaboration

I am with the Business School, at the University of Nottingham, pursuing my MBA in Entrepreneurship. I was introduced to the SRN, via a friend and colleague, on the MBA program. My primary intent when visiting the SRN was to gather some basic idea on the concept of ‘Community Energy Storage’ and the possibilities/ challenges with its deployment in the UK. The SRN Anniversary theme of ‘Sustainability in Business’ provided me a different opportunity, however.

The event helped me see how different Departments within the University – Economics, Engineering, Chemistry, were all focussed on addressing the issue of ‘environmental sustainability’, in their own disciplines and in the broader general concept of business. During the session, what struck me was there was a fundamental change required in the ‘thinking process’. In order to have environmental sustainability, at the core of decision making, the concept of environmental sustainability had to embedded in the core thinking process, when solving any problem. This would, in fact, coerce the thinker to come up with solutions that would ‘have’ to be environmentally friendly.

I was fortunate to meet with Dr. Mike Clifford, at this session. Dr. Clifford is from the Mechanical Engineering department. He had several ideas on how engineering could provide environmentally friendly alternatives to current solutions, which may not be very environmentally friendly.

A traditional solar cooker

A traditional solar cooker (image courtesy of Mike Clifford)

My interests are on renewable energy and its business potential. Dr. Clifford had an economical, sustainable and viable alternative to fire wood cooking. In parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, food is sometimes cooked using local fire wood. This results in local deforestation and health issues associated with smoke inhalation. Solar cookers could be an ideal alternative here, considering the amount of sunshine in these locations. However, the downside to this would be the inability to cook in the evenings, when there is no sunshine available.

Dr. Clifford’s idea was to use an economical, sustainable and viable latent heat storage technology, on solar cooker devices. Heat storage technology on solar cookers is already a topic of study, using phase change materials etc, however, these chemicals tend to be expensive and not very environmentally friendly, always. His idea was to use readily available materials such as brick, concrete, etc., that would serve as the heat storage system. I was keen to partner with Dr. Clifford and help develop the idea further and to take it to potential investors.

We have currently formed a team of 7 members and are participating in the University’s Post Graduate Venture Challenge (PGVC), where we pitch entrepreneurial ideas to potential investors for funding.

The SRN provided me an opportunity to network with the Engineering department and combine engineering excellence with business acumen. At this stage, we are still working on fine tuning the idea and generating our business plan and model. We really hope the PGVC would provide us the platform to help this idea succeed.

I have to thank the SRN for presenting me this wonderful opportunity and wish the group all the very best for its future!

This post was written by Nishanth Yatheendranathan, MBA Student at the University of Nottingham Business School. Mike and Nishanth met at SRN’s Anniversary Event held in May 2014.

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