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- 2023 Innovation
Visionary entrepreneurs Andrew Bissell and Susan Lang-Bissell only had to look out of the window of their beachfront home in Edinburgh for inspiration for their newest business venture.
Driven by their passion for combatting climate change, they were acutely aware of the catastrophic consequences that a mere one-metre rise in sea levels could inflict upon the planet. In the knowledge that the world uses over three times as much heat energy as electricity, they set out to find innovative solutions to lower the associated carbon emissions that plague our commercial and residential buildings.
Sunamp launched in 2005 with a clear mission to harness the power of thermal storage and transform the way we manage and use heat energy. Today, thanks to award-winning scientific and engineering innovation, Sunamp is a world-leading thermal storage technologies company, designing and manufacturing space-saving heat batteries that make buildings more energy efficient and sustainable, reducing carbon emissions and optimising renewables.
Heating and hot water accounts for over three quarters of energy use in homes, yet despite significant advancements in electric battery technology, no one had successfully developed a battery capable of efficiently storing heat.
Hungarian-born scientist Maria Telkes, who played a pivotal role in developing phase change material (PCM) thermal storage technology as a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) over 70 years ago, paved the way for Sunamp to achieve the scientific breakthrough that is having a measurable impact on the decarbonisation of heat today. PCMs are materials that can store large amounts of thermal energy by undergoing a phase change from solid to liquid or vice versa at a specific temperature.
In the 1940’s, Telkes built a prototype solar house in Massachusetts that used her PCM thermal storage system to store solar energy generated through the day to provide heat at night. However, after some months in use, the PCM began to break down, reducing its ability to store and release thermal energy.
In collaboration with the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, the Sunamp team has developed and commercialised a totally new way of storing thermal energy using salt-based PCMs, like those used in hand warmers. Unlike Telkes, Sunamp has succeeded in stabilising its patented Plentigrade® PCM, which has a proven life cycle of over 40,000 cycles, equivalent to over 50 years of normal use.
Plentigrade® is at the core of Sunamp’s Thermino heat batteries which are reliable, long lasting, low maintenance and non-toxic. What’s more, they lower energy use and cut carbon emissions, enable renewables and are up to four times smaller than the traditional hot water cylinders they replace. Additionally, every component of the batteries can be fully reused or recycled.
An important milestone
Andrew Bissell says: “The King’s Award for Innovation marks a milestone in Sunamp’s journey so far, from developing our game-changing phase change materials, to becoming world leaders in thermal storage technologies.
“The world struggled from 1947 to realise the heat battery vision of space-saving, easy-to-install-and-use, energy efficient storage for thermal energy. The lack of stable materials hampered efforts by large companies and prestigious universities.’
“We achieved the breakthrough in the early 2010s, which enabled us to arrive at the solution. Since 2018, we have brought this to market via four generations of heat battery products, and so far we have delivered over 25,000 units. I am proud of everything we have achieved, and receiving a King’s Award recognises everyone involved.”
The King’s Award for Innovation-winning thermal battery Space-saving Thermino heat batteries