In this part of the expert interviews series we talked to Mr. DI Hartmut Schneider MBA, founder of Fresnex e.U.
Concentrated solar energy (CSP) is a way to gain solar energy in the form of steam. A mirror module, the so-called "CSP panel", is to be produced cost-effectively on the basis of a patent-pending invention. The aim is to use this technology to provide process steam for industrial plants. FRESNEX is managed by Hartmut Schneider and Denis Miklau.
FRESNEX e.U. was awarded the Special Award "green innovators" as part of the i2b Business Plan 2012.
When and why did you decide to develop a new concept for solar process steam generation?
The area of concentrated solar power (CSP) is a very interesting and, above all, young technology field. For CSP, the sunlight is concentrated by mirrors and focused on a receiver in which steam is generated. Due to new developments, also in the field of materials, this relatively simple technology area opens up many new possibilities - I wanted to be there!
Previously, I was responsible as a project manager for the construction of biomass power plants, the power plant construction was therefore not foreign to me. Between 2008 and 2009, I came across the CSP technology for the first time. Parabolic trough power plants were mainly known. When working on this topic, I developed a new type of mirror bearing for the still very young Fresnel technology and applied for a patent. At the beginning of 2012, I decided to do my own business under the motto "now or never" and dedicate myself completely to the product development of a new mirror system. Later came my present partner Denis Miklau.
What is the USP for solar process steam generation by Fresnex?
In the overall concept, we can supply the customer with a finished, self-contained mirror module, which combines the mirrors on a plate, together with a drive and a control unit. The technical innovation of the new bearing makes this mirror module very cost-effective to manufacture. Each module has around 40 very narrow mirror strips, which follow the sun's course optimally with the new storage and control technology and thus increase the energy yield. The individual components of the complex total unit are matched to each other in the highest quality. Existing systems are currently being set up and aligned only at the destination. Due to the high degree of pre-production, we are able to open up a still untapped business area, namely the area of smaller solar fields for production companies using steam as a working medium. The focus of our company is therefore on the delivery of the module. The installation and installation of the plant will be carried out by local local authorities, similar to photovoltaics. The mirror plate, including the control and storage of the mirror elements, is manufactured by Fresnex, the steel construction for the attachment of the absorber tube as well as the integration into the overall system is performed by the general contractor on site.
Which industries can benefit from your product?
Target groups include companies in the food, paper and chemical industries. These companies are currently mainly using gas or oil boilers for steam generation, but also biomass boilers and waste heat recovery plants. Due to the product we offer, it is possible to provide some of the required energy by using the solar energy, the existing system serves as a backup. Thus, the use of mostly fossil energy carriers can be reduced. As a rule, steam temperatures of around 200 ° C are required in industrial processes, which is exactly the area that we can cover with our technology. We can also reach temperatures of up to 450 ° C with our system.
What is the role of storage technologies related to CSP?
The memory hemming is very current in the CSP industry. There are many different concepts that allow storage of solar energy to achieve, for example, a continuous power availability that is important for power generation. Most common are salt stores, which allow a 24-hour operation of a power station. The development direction of the storage technologies in the lower power range currently comprises, above all, cost-effective pressure boilers.
What have been the biggest challenges in realizing the project so far and what will it be in the future?
A great challenge is the many activities that take place in parallel. Our idea, which has already led to a patent in Austria, has met with good feedback from all the funding agencies. A corresponding support, especially in the administrative area, has made the start-up process much easier. A further challenge is the finding of qualified personnel to the extent required, since many areas in our company do not have to be implemented by a full-time force at the present time.
The biggest challenge in the future will be to convince our customers that the relatively cost-intensive investment in our system is worthwhile in the long term and that we can offer an excellent, very durable product with good efficiency. The investment pays for itself through the saving of fossil fuels and can provide almost free energy after the end of the loan repayments. This justifies the high investment costs, but also requires courage to take the path of this still young technology.
The market is hardly developed in this segment. This has the advantage that we have a pioneering role, but the market must also be fundamentally processed by us. We are supported by the bodies of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the activities of other organizations such as the AEE Intec in Gleisdorf, which also deal intensively with the topic of solar process heat. It is important to test plants as well as to develop certification systems that provide customers with security and transparency.
How do you assess the competitive situation in your market segment?
At present, the market is still barely developed, the competition in the segment of applications with low steam generation still low. It is possible that companies dealing with CSP power plants can break down their technology to smaller applications in the process steam range and thus present potential competitors in the future. Compared to existing parabolic trough concepts, however, we have the advantage that the wind attack area is low in our facilities, which means we can save material and thus costs and lower loads on the construction subsoil - for example a building roof.
How relevant is the international market for you at this time?
Our target markets lie in the first step in southern Europe, for example Spain, Italy or Greece. Our simulations have shown that due to the high levels of solar radiation in these countries, our technology is competitive with gas and oil firing systems. In order to plan economically viable plants in Austria, subsidies are still necessary, for example in the framework of the Climate Fund. Due to the proximity, we will start with our first plants in Austria, the journey abroad will be carried out step by step.
What do you think you need to develop and implement an environmental engineering product?
As the investments for building the company are multi-digit millions - a large part must be spent on the development and installation of automated production - subsidies are a key issue. We are currently financing mainly through equity and through sponsorship from the Austrian Economic Service (aws), from the AplusB incubator ACCENT in Lower Austria, by the Research Promotion Agency (FFG). For the future, we place our trust in the entry of investors as well as further funding for these institutions.
How do you assess the legal and administrative requirements for the creation of a company in Austria?
The formal steps were and are relatively simple for us, also because we already had an existing patent in advance and were actively supported by the WKO and the RIZ (Lower Austrian Founding Center). Austria is very start-up friendly.
How do you assess the legal requirements for the installation of solar process steam generators in Austria?
Important safety regulations are particularly important. With the technology developed by us, high temperatures and pressures are created, corresponding standards have to be observed, safety precautions are already taken into account in the planning process.
Furthermore, regulations concerning the statics of the installations, especially in the case of installation on buildings, must be observed. Due to the already mentioned low power transmission to the building, these provisions do not pose any major problems, but must, of course, be respected. With regard to international markets, the respective valid standards of the country have to be met, so that the product has to be adapted to these. This is a significant cost factor for a young company.
What are your goals for which time horizon?
In the next five years, we have planned to hire 50 employees, the majority of whom are in production. The aim is a fully automatic assembly of the components of the mirror module with subsequent quality control. This is necessary to achieve a competitive price structure.
Before investing in this production plant, the efficiency of the mirror module must be demonstrated. To this end, we have already developed a very detailed simulation of the efficiency and the expected annual production of our plants, depending on the installation site and the solar radiation. Now we are trying to verify these calculations using prototypes and reference systems. Parallel to this, the mechanical design, the control programming, the design of the motors etc. are optimized.
The subsequent phase is the planning and implementation of the above-mentioned series production, which is to be developed in parallel by the intensive marketing and sales activities of the Southern European market.
DI Hartmut Schneider MBA
Studium Maschinenbau an der TU Wien
MBA an der WU Executive Academy
12 Jahre Erfahrung im Bereich Vertrieb und Projektmanagement namhafter Anlagenbaukonzerne
Leitung des Aufbaus einer lokalen Vertriebsabteilung von Voith Paper in Shanghai
Projektmanager für Austrian Energy and Environment
Sales-Manager bei Novatec Solar in Karlsruhe (weltweit führendes CSP Unternehmen für direkt verdampfende Solarfelder)
zertifizierter Senior-Projektmanager nach IPMA