Sunamp Ltd, based in a former mining community near Tranent in East Lothian, was founded in 2005 by successful technology entrepreneur, Andrew Bissell.
Andrew wanted to create heat storage systems using Phase Change Materials (PCMs) capable of storing and releasing heat as they change phase – similar to hand warmers, and yet powerful enough to provide heat and hot water for a household. The company developed a heat battery that was more efficient than hot water tanks and cheaper than gas.
However, the issue Sunamp faced with PCMs was incongruent melting, which affected the PCMs ability to store and release heat over a long lifetime.
Through Interface, Sunamp was matched with Colin Pulham, Professor of High-Pressure Chemistry and Head of the School of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, to analyse the PCMs to develop systems that stored renewable energy as heat. The partners did this by developing additives, reducing the effects of any incongruent melting and significantly improving the heat storage properties.
Andrew said: “Professor Colin Pulham is extremely good at understanding a problem from the perspective of the company and then applying his own intellect, that of his students, the wider resources of the university and its’ academic networks to solving the problem. Colin and his colleagues have been pragmatic and creative in developing the commercial relationship in such a way that it optimises the benefits for all parties.”
The partnership was funded through a Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher.
“The company developed a heat battery that was more efficient than hot water tanks and cheaper than gas. Sunamp batteries are now installed in 650 homes in East Lothian.”
Resident, Jean Maclean, said: “It saves a lot of money – you’re getting your hot water for free. Before that, this house was a really cold, cold house.”
The partners have since worked together on several projects, helping Sunamp engage with companies all over the world and access facilities such as the Diamond Light Source UK facility and leading to a new area of research for the university. In 2017 a consortia, including Professor Pulham and Sunamp, was awarded £250,000 from Innovate UK for a project to develop a thermal heating solution for hybrid electric bus cabins.
Sunamp have also gone to work with the University of Glasgow on a £2 million project linked to clean power and heat generation from the China-UK Research and Innovation Bridges programme, and have a KTP with Heriot Watt University, which was also set-up through Interface.
Sunamp’s material science team now consists of four of Prof. Pulham’s former students, including material scientist Dr David Oliver who worked on the initial research project. Under an Energy Technology Partnership one of the PhD students made two significant discoveries in relation to Sunamp which have been published. Professor Pulham now has a Sunamp-focussed team working within the university and some of the collaborative projects have secured EPSRC Impact accelerator and Innovate UK funding.
The university aims to submit an impact case study to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021, highlighting the significant benefits of the collaboration to both partners.
This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.