Swisspod and Muspell Consortium Partners Secure €3.5M EU Grant for Pioneering Next-Gen Thermal Energy Storage System

September 19, 2023

The consortium comprising of Swisspod Technologies, Eurac Research, Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, the National Institute of Chemistry in Slovenia, the Politecnico di Milano and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya has received a €3.5M Pathfinder grant by the European Innovation Council (EIC) and the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research, and Innovation (SERI). The funding will drive the development of the Muspell project, a novel, state-of-the-art Thermal Energy Storage System (TESS) — an important component of a sustainable and reliable energy system. The project will commence in October 2023 and is set to span a duration of 4 years.

“This grant is more than an investment in technology; it symbolizes a shared vision for sustainability. Being selected for the EIC Pathfinder Challenges Programme brings a great recognition upon the potential of the solution we are proposing and its transformative impact on creating a more sustainable and energy-efficient future. At Swisspod, our mission is to build a better tomorrow through innovation, and we couldn't be more grateful to embark on this journey alongside a group of brilliant research and academic visionaries who share this same outlook", says Vlad Iorgulescu, Swisspod’s COO, and one of the initiators of the Muspell project.

The Muspell project aims to introduce to the market a more efficient mid-to-long term TESS, transcending the limitations of current available systems. By adopting an innovative approach grounded in material research, the consortium sets out to engineer a compact, highly flexible and modular system that offers increased energy density and seamless integration of heat-pump capabilities. The novel TESS will unlock new avenues of application across energy-intensive industries — from manufacturing, textile, food processing, and construction materials, to transportation, energy and environmental services industries.

A TESS allows for efficient storage and usage of thermal energy, providing flexibility, energy management, cost savings, as well as environmental benefits as it can integrate renewable energy sources. The operation of this system involves receiving thermal energy input from various sources like waste/excess heat, solar thermal collectors, electricity, and storing it in a suitable medium, such as a thermo-chemical or a phase-change material. When the stored energy is needed, the TESS transfers it to the desired application at the required temperature level.

Muspell Project’s Substantial Scientific, Societal, And Economic Impact

This groundbreaking initiative aligns with multiple Sustainable Development Goals, facilitating access to clean energy while simultaneously mitigating the carbon footprint associated with various industries. By emphasizing material development and optimization, as well as system level innovation, the project is committed to achieving high performance while minimizing environmental impact to the greatest extent possible.

“Muspell is the bet of a consortium that unites scientific, technological and entrepreneurial worlds to face one of the many challenges posed by the global warming emergency and pollution increase: to improve process efficiency by reusing energy with novel technologies. We strongly believe that such scientific and engineering efforts are not only a necessary actor but also our responsibility within the complex solution required to build a sustainable future for the generations to come”, says Pol Lloveras, Associate Professor at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and Principal Investigator of Muspell project at the aforementioned partner.

The novel TESS will also serve as a cutting-edge thermal battery, enabling the efficient capture, storage, and usage of waste heat generated during industrial processes. Thus, the system not only curtails energy waste, but also mitigates the environmental impact associated with greenhouse gas emissions.

This is particularly important for sectors with significant energy requirements, such as the food and beverage or textile sectors, wherein a substantial amount of energy is released as waste heat. These industries require precise temperature control, are experiencing fluctuating energy demands, and need flexibility in managing thermal energy across a diverse range of processes. The proposed solution can provide a more flexible and efficient TESS that will benefit these sectors.

"The Muspell project will seek and find new ways of compactly storing and shifting thermal energy at different temperature levels for industrial applications and with these solutions help to avoid use of fossil fuels. Our team at Fraunhofer ISE is looking forward to contributing to this with longstanding experience in the field of thermal storage and thermally driven heat transformation”, added Dr. Gerrit Füldner, Head of Group Thermal Integration at Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems.

The potential for broader applications extends into the transportation sector, particularly in the hyperloop technology development, where Swisspod holds a prominent position. This solution can effectively address a myriad of challenges associated with thermal management. The complexity it solves revolves around the significant amount of waste heat generated during operations, the need for a lightweight system to capture this waste energy, and the intricate process of storing and transferring thermal energy within the low-pressure environment of the hyperloop tubes.

“Thermal energy storage systems will have a pivotal role in managing a high penetration of discontinuous renewable energy sources in the European energy system. Understanding and planning the utilization of such systems in relevant applications in industry and tertiary sectors is most important to guide market exploitation and policies strategic orientation”, says Roberto Fedrizzi, Coordinator Sustainable Heating and Cooling Systems at Eurac Research.

European Support For Developing Breakthrough Clean Tech

The positive evaluation provided by the EIC regarding the Muspell project for the Pathfinder Challenges Programme serves as a strong validation of the consortium's mission. Collectively, the group will be granted €3.1 million by the European Commission, supplemented by an additional €400,000 contribution from SERI.

Annually, numerous proposals undergo rigorous assessment for this European funding programme, with only a limited number being chosen. In 2022, the EIC received a total of 469 proposals, out of which 44 projects were selected, securing €167 million in EU funding, or approximately €3.8 million per project.

EIC Pathfinder Programme is an initiative by the European Commission to support groundbreaking, visionary projects with significant scientific and technological impact. It encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists, universities and startups, and fosters forward-thinking research with the goal of promoting innovation-driven growth and addressing major societal challenges through cutting-edge technology.

The European Commission and SERI’s endorsement for the Muspell project follows the Swiss Government's continuous support extended to Swisspod in the past years. The company has received 2 federal grants via the Innosuisse funding programs. These funds, won in partnership with reputable academic institutions in Switzerland such as Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, School of Business and Engineering Vaud, and University of Applied Sciences Haute Ecole ARC, have played a pivotal role in advancing the research and development of the hyperloop technology.

The Consortium Powering the Future of Efficient Energy Storage

The quality and efficiency of implementation are guaranteed by a global consortium comprising members from various disciplines. Swisspod, a leading Swiss deep-tech start-up, is the project's initiator, and serves as the Commercialization Partner. In its role, the company leverages its expertise in business development to offer guidance, allocates resources, and devises strategies to facilitate a seamless transition and successful market implementation of the technology, ensuring continuous development beyond the project's initial scope.

Eurac Research assumed the role of the Muspell project Coordinator, drawing upon its extensive experience as a coordinator and partner in 90 ongoing projects, supported by diverse European Union programs. In addition, Eurac Research's technical goal lies in modeling the TESS utilization within industrial processes and the broader energy system.

With a focus on renewable energies, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, Europe's largest solar energy research institution, excels in the development of new materials, components, procedures, and integrated energy concepts for various applications. The institute has a strong foundation in heat transformation processes and a deep understanding of adsorption/desorption processes at the material, component, and system levels. Within the consortium, the team will collaborate closely with Swisspod to develop the prototype and run benchmark testing of the system.

The National Institute of Chemistry in Slovenia will develop novel thermochemical materials to achieve a new configuration that delivers high energy density within specific temperature ranges. With a proven track record in designing and advancing cutting-edge materials for diverse environmental and energy applications, the institute possesses extensive expertise in key areas such as hydrogen storage, CO2 capture and conversion, as well as state-of-the-art testing equipment.

“By collaborating on this project, the NIC aims to take the efficiency of energy storage materials to a new level, enabling smoother optimization of energy distribution and ultimately ensuring a more environmentally friendly and reliable energy supply”, said Prof. Dr. Nataša Zabukovec Logar, Head of the Department of Inorganic Chemistry and Technology at the National Institute of Chemistry in Slovenia.

The Politecnico di Milano leverages its expertise in innovation and technology management to prioritize energy efficiency, technological assessment, and renewable solutions for the industrial sector. In collaboration with Swisspod and Eurac Research, the academic institution will conduct interviews and gather market insights on the application scenarios of TESS, while analyzing the system's integration into a broader ecosystem.

"Polimi considers it extremely important to perform an analysis about the potential markets of the technology that Consortium is going to develop. The activity aims at analyzing technological and economic fitting of the TES in the application sectors and evaluating the TES potential environmental and economic impact on the technological development of each sector”, explained Simone Franzò, Senior Assistant Professor at Politecnico di Milano.

The Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya will address the research, preparation and optimization of phase change materials for the project. The Group of Characterization of Materials, an integral part of the academic institution, is globally renowned for its advanced expertise in energy materials for thermal energy storage, solid-state cooling and complex polymorphism.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement No 101114987.

Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Innovation Council and SMEs Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

Photo: Adsorption module test bench © Fraunhofer ISE / Foto / Dirk Mahler
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