Limburg innovation accelerates transition to sustainable energy

Our own innovation: parabolic mirrors that capture sunlight for the production process.

After his engineering degree, Peter worked for companies from Silicon Valley for a while, just when the Internet started conquering the world. He engaged in business development and assisted American companies in introducing their innovations on the European market. Back in Belgium, he started working for Thor Park. He was one of the founders of IncubaThor and helped attract innovation talent and relevant technology companies. This is how he met his current partners Kari Ven and Koen Vermout, both experienced and interested in sustainable energy. Kari Ven had been working in the CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) business for years. ‘We decided to co-found Azteq and to specialise in the development of solar thermal installations for industry.’

Heat for companies

Breweries, chemical or pharmaceutical companies, soft drink manufacturers, the food industry,… Many companies need heat for their industrial processes. The Azteq installation generates heat from a sustainable source: sunlight. ‘Parabolic mirrors capture and concentrate the sunbeams because of their geometry to a focal point in which a collector tube with thermal oil is located. A heat exchanger transfers the heat from the oil to a medium that is applicable in the production process: oil, steam, hot water or hot air. This makes it possible to generate heat of up to 400 °C.’

Sustainable energy source

Similar installations are placed at extremely hot places on Earth and act as power plants. However, the Azteq installations are deployed in industry and to an increasing extent in district heating networks.

‘We need energy on Earth for electricity and heating. There are already many sustainable alternatives in the power sector. Not so in the heating sector, where the need is two to three times greater. The traditional way to generate thermal energy is gas, which produces significant CO2 emissions. We place our installation next to the customer’s gas turbine and replace the gas by solar energy, if sufficiently available. In this way, our customer opts for a sustainable source, partly avoids carbon taxes and saves money.’

Energy storage solution

Thermal energy storage needs to be optimised to make the Concentrated Solar Thermal Energy or CST more user-friendly. Azteq is working on this and saw its opportunity when CrossRoads – a project within the European Interreg programme for Flanders and the Netherlands – made its first call for sustainable energy. ‘We decided to join forces with Meeberg ISO Tanks in Moerdijk. They specialise in tank storage and safe transport of chemical and thermal products. We prepared a joint dossier. The idea was to connect our installations to buffer tanks that store heat and then transfer thermal energy in adequate, constant quantities.’

Smooth application procedure

‘We had to provide several work packages: from the design of the buffer tank to the choice of the connection valves. Everything was described in detail. We submitted the subsidy dossier via Vlaio’s online office, and Meeberg did the same through Stimulus. First we presented our dossier to an advisory board. They formulated some action points to address. An independent jury then decided on our candidacy. Our dossier has been approved in the meantime. Our project was initiated last month. This goes to show that there’s always help if you want to innovate. Make use of it. Take part in Flemish and European dossiers. Try your luck.’

Experimenting to learn

For 18 months, the partners experimented at Thor Park where Azteq is located. The objective was to acquire knowledge and to find an efficient solution for thermal energy storage. ‘Meeberg provides two specially developed tanks that are linked to our CST platform on the Thor site. If all goes well, we will be able to equip every solar installation with a storage tank in the future. We are trying to keep it as light and flexible as possible, because we will take care of construction and installation. The customer will only buy heat from us.’

Now is the time

Energy transition is in full swing. We are moving from energy production based on demand to production based on the availability of sustainable energy sources. And that’s why storage is crucial.

‘It’s a great opportunity for Limburg and Flanders, because this has become a hot topic all over the world. I compare it to the evolution of the Internet. We are currently riding the same wave. Now is the time to surf on it. Nothing can stop us from conquering America, for instance, with our developments. We don’t consider multinationals competitors. We are pioneers in what we do, but if you stand alone on the market, there is no market. Where we will be in 2030? I think we will be part of a bigger structure. We will be incorporated or taken over by a big player. And that’s fine.’

Source: voka

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