Green energy is a key concern in the green transition. So far, nothing has successfully reversed or even affected the trend: the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere is rising steadily. Therefore, all conceivable solutions in all conceivable sizes and shapes are needed.
The dream of a Danish-built nuclear reactor began to take shape six years ago. Simply because a team of young physics and engineering profiles saw it as the only path to carbonless power on a large enough scale to do anything about the climate changes.
It was the start of the company Seaborg Technologies and a mission to bring a new, special type of nuclear reactor to market. A reactor, that is safer because it has molten salt at its core and can burn waste from traditional reactors. While it may sound science fiction-like, the concept is actually decades old.
“I do not see us as inventors, it is more about development and commercialization. But of course, it requires many small technological breakthroughs – and a few large ones – before we are on the market,” says Troels Schönfeldt, who is CEO of Seaborg Technologies and also holds a PhD in nuclear and neutron physics.
Today, the dream has grown into a company with 76 employees backed by several million kroner in investments. Laboratories have been built, and most recently the company has also started building the first elements in steel. But even though they have been seven years in the making, Seaborg still has no product to show for it – not even a prototype. When the ambition is to mass-produce nuclear reactors, there is a long way to market.
“A couple of years ago, we struggled to get the first things done in the laboratory. Now we are struggling to get the first things done in a workshop. And once we have done that, we will struggle to get things done in the actual market,” says Schönfeldt.
»By 2030, we expect to produce more electricity than all Danish offshore wind combined«
Today, however, the company has come so far as to test sub-components and systems for the reactor. And once the prototype is connected to the grid, the co-founder and CEO expects it to provide large quantities of carbonless energy fast.
“It takes a large amount of hard work and probably also a lot of luck. But our plan is to have the first reactor ready in 2026. From there, we can really move something on the large scale, and we can do it quickly: by 2030, we expect to produce more electricity than all Danish offshore wind combined,” he says.
Sunshine as a Service
While Seaborg’s product is still years in the future, Second Sun has a solution ready now that helps football clubs save on their electricity bills. The startup wants the clubs to switch off the energy-intensive artificial light that keeps the turf green today.
As a replacement, the company has developed an advanced system of intelligent software and motorized mirrors that automatically adjust to the solar orbit so that the lawn can grow using reflected, natural light rather than artificial lighting. And it’s not only good news for the clubs green conscience.
“With our simulation tools and variables such as weather data and the stadium’s location and construction, we calculate how many extra hours of sunshine we can deliver. We compare this with their current power consumption for artificial light, and based on those calculations we can show that for an average football club in Europe it takes 3-5 years to return the investment,” says Nicolai Moustgaard, co-founder and CEO of Second Sun ApS.
The system will typically save a larger stadium 10M kroner and 2,000 tonnes of CO2 over a 10-year period. The startup currently has a development collaboration and a full scale installation with Brondby IF, but despite the good business case, the football clubs have not lined up to buy it. According to the founder, the explanation for the hesitant approach is probably the fact that the climate challenge is not at the top of the football clubs’ agenda.
“The football industry is relatively conservative, and it also makes sense to prioritize their core business – they do not have to be specialists in implementing green solutions. But we all need to do something, and for clubs, the pressure is mounting from fans and sponsors. Some are moving faster than others, and I think the wave will quickly start moving in the right direction once we have proven the solution with the first couple of customers,” says Moustgaard.
For some, computer-controlled mirrors might simply be a too radical change. Therefore, Second Sun has also evolved its funding model, making it even harder for clubs to say no to the green choice.
“Our solution is relatively large capital projects, and this may stand in the way of a green decision at the clubs, even though the facility pays for itself relatively quickly. So we have made a collaboration with a financing partner to be able to offer ‘Sunshine as a Service’, where the clubs only pay for the sunshine we provide,” says Moustgaard.
About: Second Sun
- Second Sun will reduce the football clubs’ need for artificial light, which is typically used to care for the pitch between matches, using motorized mirrors that automatically move with the sun.
- The company currently has a development collaboration with Brøndby, but offers other clubs to buy their solution as “Sunshine as a Service’, where they only pay for the number of hours of sunshine the facility delivers to the turf.
- Second Sun was founded in 2016 and currently has 6 employees.
Local empowerment by software
The sharing economy was an important inspiration for the startup Enyday, which in 2018 started building a platform that would make it possible to share surplus solar power with the neighbours.
After a few pivots, the company is now selling its solution to property developers, housing associations and cooperatives, who use the platform for all the practicalities of getting a shared solar installation up and running. In fact, the easiest part is getting the panels installed. The difficult part of running an energy community is operations, the settlement between residents, sub-meter setup and the legislation itself as well as upcoming load management with EVs or storage. But Enyday has the know-how and handles all the complexity for the energy communities – right down to details such as a smart app for users.
“Our platform makes it easy to start and operate energy communities in a smart and manageable way. With our service building owners do not have to think about anything else than whether they want to invest in solar or not,” explains Christopher Tolstrup, founder of Enyday, and continues:
“We provide them with an energy community solution enabling them to have an attractive business case from their solar panel investment. In this way, we are an enabler for more green energy – and in some cases, this additionality of renewable energy means three times as many panels on the roof, because we make the buildings or cluster houses easier to operate.”
Enyday does not develop or sell carbon-reducing hardware itself. But the startups software makes it easier for large apartment buildings or housing associations to opt for solar on the roof. At the same time, the startup is leading a demonstration project on virtual energy communities that will connect buildings, citizens and small businesses in Copenhagen neighbourhoods – and the founder believes this energy sharing will pave the way for a more decentralized renewable energy in urban areas.
»The technology isn’t revolutionary. The innovation comes from taking standards and solutions from the energy industry and utilize it to accelerate sustainability in the real estate industry«
»The technology isn’t revolutionary. The innovation comes from taking standards and solutions from the energy industry and utilize it to accelerate sustainability in the real estate industry. This new type of green proptech solution, we make easily accessible through software,« says Tolstrup and continues: »In contrast to the very centralized approach to green transition with wind turbines, we work directly with local communities. It’s also about engagement, and we can accelerate the green transition locally in buildings and cities. We juggle the complexity so communities can discuss setting up batteries and solar panels instead of talking about how to operate it in practice,« says Tolstrup.
- Well-meaning people in cooperative housing associations want to do good for the climate. But even though they have 2M DKK readily available in their association, which can be invested in a shared solar installation, there are many practical and regulatory barriers to getting started. Enyday removes them with its services.
- Enyday wants to make it easy to operate energy communities. This way, the startup hopes to increase the number of investments in green initiatives and at the same time engage consumers by keeping the efforts local.
- The company currently employs 10 people.
Seaborg Technologies is in the process of climbing a development Mount Everest to get the new type of nuclear power ready for the market. At the same time, they have innovated on the business model: Instead of a large, central nuclear power plant, they aim at installing smaller reactors into 40-foot containers. As if that were not enough challenges, Seaborg also intends to install the reactor containers on barges (ships with no engines for propulsion) so that it becomes a fleet of floating, mobile power plants. A solution they are working on in partnership with one of South Korea’s largest shipyards.
The vision is thus a series-produced off-the-shelf product, so the system does not have to be re-approved every time it is installed. An important part of preparing for rapid and efficient scaling at an international level – without regulatory barriers – as soon as the technology is ready.
“Based on the market’s need to replace coal and gas as well as the supply chain we have through shipyards, our goal is to build 200 barges per year by 2035 – which will equate to 4.5 times as much as all offshore wind to date in annual production capacity,” says Troels Schönfeldt.
Therefore, there are almost no limits to how big a business Seaborg can become if they succeed:
“It will not be easy by any means, and the most realistic outcome is that we do not get there at all. But if we break through the market barrier, it is likely that we will be 100 times as big as Vestas. I would like to insist that we will easily become Europe’s largest company if we succeed – it is not an unrealistic outcome,” he says.
- Seaborg Technologies is developing a so-called molten salt reactor, which can supply carbonless electricity in large quantities.
- The goal is to mass-produce the new type of reactor in 40-foot containers to keep costs down and effectively introduce the solution globally via floating power barges produced at shipyards in serial production.
- Seaborg Technologies was founded in 2014. Today, the company has 75 employees and expects to double that number during 2022. The company has recently received a million investment in double-digits from the Bestseller fund ‘Heartland’.
All solutions on the table
Providing climate-friendly electricity to a growing, global population with increasing, individual energy consumption is, of course, a huge challenge. At the same time, the optimist will call it a huge business opportunity. But regardless of point of view, it’s probably going to require a lot of different solutions if we’re going to achieve the climate goals.
“We will not change anything in the big picture. It is not like we are revolutionizing the world,” says Nicolai Moustgaard from Second Sun. Yet, he still believes the company has an important role to play:
“We are doing something for an industry that affects many people. Some have to take the lead, and if it can be the football world that has such a large interface with fans and sponsors, then it may move a lot in the end.”
Even when the covid pandemic stopped air traffic in 2020, it did not give any noticeable fluctuation in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, states Troels Schönfeldt from Seaborg Technologies. Therefore, we should stop believing we are done if we just stop flying and start eating vegan. We have to do that, but we also have to do more. Much, much, much more.
“We do not understand the extent of the problem at all. We must develop every available technology – no matter the stage. Both those that are close to the market, those that are far away and those that are only available as ideas on a piece of paper. And furthermore, we have to invent new things that have not been invented yet and that is outside our understanding of physics and chemistry – we need some magic,” says Schönfeldt.
»We do not make nuclear power because we think it is the popular solution. But I do not care – what matters is that it solves the problem.«
In fact, that feeling of a tremendous need for change is the very thing that causes him to develop nuclear power every day.
“Many great things are happening – just not enough to stop the amount of carbon in the atmosphere from increasing. The measures that are needed are so violent that it is difficult to grasp. Hence, Seaborg is also associated with a certain apathy: We do not make nuclear power because we think it is the popular solution. But I do not care – what matters is that it solves the problem.”