Cowa Thermal Solutions AG is a spin-off from the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and was founded almost 3 years ago by Jörg Worlitschek, Remo Waser and Simon Maranda. The company develops compact thermal energy storage systems based on phase change materials for building technology. The technology can be combined with renewable energy sources and increases their self-consumption by up to 30% by coupling the supply and demand of energy through the storage systems.
TPL: Explained in the simplest possible terms: phase change materials – PCM for short – are suitable for storing energy. As they melt, these materials absorb a great deal of energy. When they are discharged, this energy is released, and the material becomes solid again. This process can theoretically be repeated as often as required and can therefore be used for storing energy. Right?
TPL: Now you are working with phase change materials and developing a compact thermal energy storage device. From a technical point of view, what are the biggest challenges that you have already faced or that still need to be faced?
Remo: The big challenges fall into two areas: PCM, and heat transfer. With PCM itself, the challenge is to find material mixtures that are environmentally friendly, ecological, economically attractive, and stable over time. This is the biggest challenge, as the variety of possible compositions (a PCM typically consists of four ‘ingredients’) is almost infinite. However, we have solved this as much as possible. The biggest challenge in industrialization is maintaining the exact composition, especially the water content of our PCMs. This is our focus at the moment with regards to PCMs. In terms of heat transfer, which we do with capsules, the long-term stability and manufacturing costs are clearly the biggest challenges. Here we have made great progress in the last few months, especially with regards to mechanical stability.
TPL: Let’s talk about the market. Where do you currently see as the greatest potential for the commercialization of your product?
Remo: We see enormous potential in photovoltaic-driven heat pump systems, where we can significantly increase the heating autonomy and efficiency of the systems thanks to the PCMs. But we also see potential simply in compactness, especially in renovations, where the installation of new storage units is problematic due to the often very tight conditions. In the medium to long term, we will develop a product that is simply two to three times more compact than conventional storage systems while offering the same benefits.
TPL: When most people think of storage systems, batteries come to mind first. A large industry is developing new battery technologies at breath-taking speed. How do you set yourselves apart?
Remo: We see our product as a wonderful complement to batteries because the heat pump is always the largest consumer in the system. Why run the heat pump from a battery when you can run it easier and cheaper with thermal storage?
TPL: Are there competitors working on similar solutions with phase change materials and if so, how do you still manage to hold your own against them in the long term?
Remo: Yes, there are certain competitors in Germany and the UK. We have higher energy densities and better heat transfer concepts. But we are also convinced that competition stimulates the market, which in our case is not known for its outstanding dynamics.
TPL: Let’s talk a bit more about money. Development and market building are expensive. How have you financed this?
Remo: Fortunately, we have been quite successful in fund-raising so far and have been able to finance our activities through grants from the Gebert Rüf Foundation, the Climate Foundation, the Swiss Innovation Parks as well as Innosuisse.
TPL: Are there any further rounds of funding planned?
Remo: Yes, we are planning the next round in 2023, which should be a bit higher.
TPL: Give us a brief insight into your planning. What are the major milestones coming up this year?
Remo: This year we plan to enter the Swiss market with a product at 30°C, which will significantly increase the heating autonomy of new buildings. In 2023, we are then already planning to expand into our neighbouring country to the north.
TPL: You have been a start-up entrepreneur for almost 3 years now. What has surprised you the most during this time?
Remo: I have been surprised by the great network in Switzerland and yet also a little bit how research and the real market differ.
TPL: If readers are interested in your company Cowa Thermal Solutions, what is the easiest way to get in touch with you?
Remo: The best way is to simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org