Startup Awards 2014 – the Successful Story of our Researchers!

22. 01. 2015

Awarded researchers in front of University of Žilina

November 28, 2014 will forever be associated with the success of researchers from the Research Centre, University of Žilina, which they managed to materialize into a startup of Oscar. Years of calculations, comparisons and fine-tunings of an idea were rewarded with a win in the final competition "Startup Awards 2014", which they enjoyed in the historical building of the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava. Keep hands on the prestigious award is the start for further work and also in the fulfillment of dreams, which Ing. Michal Gottwald and Ing. René Krivošík had set long before the competition. Their success is proof that hard work pays off, even if they do not start just for the money ...

Have You been surprised by the victory?

"It might sound like a cliché, but this victory really surprised us. We even considered as the victory the opportunity for us to present our solution for elite audience and wide publicity associated with the entire final. Not only award in the form of "Oscar", but also the progress to the final was a huge success for us and also a great opportunity to find various contacts with partners from the commercial sector and start up business - it is ultimately the role of VC ŽU in Žilina - to start up spin-offs and help to start up the cooperation of academic and the business community."

Your natural heat accumulator wins over plastic bags, which are able to decompose themselves in the soil, and clothing for golfers "crammed" by sensors. Was it hard?

"Later we have found out that the total number of subscribers for the competition was more than 90 projects. In the semifinal there were selected more than 20 projects and to the final were progressed 12 projects including our project, all divided into four categories. The whole competition was about the ability to present ourselves. We have never been thinking about how best to sell our idea. We worked on it for years, but not because of money. After that, when we got to the competition, it was necessary to start working on the possibilities how to monetize our idea .... To be honest, we did not quite understood the idea of how this competition works and we run into problems at first round - we began our presentation with the complicated isotherms... Our theme - combining ecology and physics - despite the complexity interested the audience and we were selected for next round. Assigned mentors led us and helped us to represent our ideas more simply, we were cooperating and the success came."

So as I understood, at first it was not about money, but about the vision. Can you please tell me more about this vision?

"Achieving energy independence. Our Natural heat accumulator is one of the so-called support projects for concept of "Zero City" in 2020, on which works a team of experts at the "Research Center ŽUŽ", they work working on several research activities and all activities go in the direction of self-sufficiency. At first, it should be self-sufficiency of the power grid and next self-sufficiency of the food and then self-sufficiency of the economy."

Economically - is it possible?

"Not yet, but we have a high goals and we hope that we will succeed ... Meanwhile we want to be independent, at least from the power grid... In practice, this means that men is not bound to any system, and for example, it can be very interesting for an increasing number of the followers of so-called island habitation systems. Simply said, we were inspired by an effort of an increasing number of people, who are trying to be independent by using the energy, which is received by the surface of their house (sunlight, rain, etc.). So we were thinking how to build such a house, which will be independent on mains connections. We kept in memory the fact, that the solution must be relatively inexpensive, fast and without the need for a staggering investment into the technology. Gradually, we focused on the improvement of systems of accumulating heat in the soil, which is not need to be imported, because we have a huge amount directly under the house."

What is the main innovation?

"it is in the fact, that we are able to cover the energy needs for heating the house. I want to emphasize that we focus only on heating, preparation of hot water is a very different... Our device accumulates energy during some period, and the house can use this energy, when it is needed. For example, "Solar" is well known by the fact, that most heat from it we have in the period, when we need it the less, in the summer. That is why many people tried to solve the problem, how to transfer the energy to the winter season and we have achieved this."

The soil plays a key role in your project. How does it work?

"We had a variety of alternative information sources about accumulation homes backfilled with clay, so we started to consider the clay as an environment in which is a possibility to store a lot of heat. In our technology we combined the experiences with deep submerged heat accumulation and surface heat accumulation. Just because that we are able to gather during a year relatively large gain of solar energy and then cover up to 100 percent of energy needs for heating of the houses. In practice, we are talking about 2 thousand tons of soil, in which we accumulate the energy and it whole becomes a huge reservoir of energy. Heat accumulator is thus mass of clay, which has not been moved, but must be isolated and separated from the environment (soil) to reduce the conductivity and atmospheric agents. Subsequently, is this mass of clay subsidized by special heat exchangers and by the same heat exchanger is then pumped back into the house. There aren ´t moving parts, only moving part is a circulator."

Is it appropriate to use this in our circumstances?

"We had adjusted the soil accumulation for our climate, so that the heat, which is accumulated during the summer, will suffice to heat the house during the winter, even without heat pumps and artificial reservoirs of heat."

Is it possible to build  this type of heat accumulator for already built houses?

"Yes, this can be done, but not below the house, but only next to the house, and this would cover about 40 percent of energy neededs for heating of the house. We must emphasize that this technology concerns only passive houses."

Are there some limitations in the implementation?

"Yes - gravel and high level of the groundwater, this could be a complication."

What is the cost of installing natural heat accumulator?

"Price of acquisition of the heat battery is similar to the price of conventional heating systems, and compared to conventional heating systems can reduce the cumulativ eoperating costs, ideally up to 80 percent by using this system during over 30 years of the use. Our idea was not to invent saving for the rich. We are not using any new materials, new software, we rather use a higher degree of organization of existing materials. It is a relatively simple and inexpensive matter - the underground part costs about 6,000 euros, operating costs are 6 euros per month according to our calculations and there are also already included costs of the maintenance of the system. It is also inexpensive, because we are not digging the clay, we just connect it to the house it is necessary to say, that until the battery will be stabilized, it takes 3-4 years, because this long takes to charge this battery."

Basically, You are still working on the development, what are You missing ?

"More precise data. For collection of these data, we need a more pilot project instalations, it means more test objects. This is something what cannot be done in the laboratory."

Therefore, do you need a specific house?

"Basically, yes, we need a real house, in which people will actually live, this house will have a rhythm of life, it will have a real curve of energy needs and we will be able to examine the behavior of the accumulator in real circumstances. Except this, we need more funding for development of this project, the funds for legal protection and quality contracts - it is about 300 000 euro, that we are aware, it is not a small sum, but for achieving the desired result it is necessary... In the first phase we will try to "collect" about 10,000 euro for the first phase, during which we would like to finish the pilot project, 3x3 meters large clay heat accumulator which is located within the complex in Žilina."

On the basis of winning the contest and the subsequent publicity you already found the interested person - an enthusiast for new technologies ...

"Yes. He offered us his own building, where we can implement our heating system on his funds, "cover it up" by sensors and explore it further. We were very pleased and nowadays we negotiate with him about future cooperation."

Are you planning to move your idea into practice, by starting to offer it to the candidates?

"We want to sell licenses, know-how. The technical manual is an output for us, according which at least somewhat able company can implement this, like using recipe from cookbook."

Have you already submitted a patent applications?

"We have prepared the patent applications for utility model - exchanger, the accumulator is in state of preparing."

You have mentioned Zero City 2020, do You also have other goals?

"Project Zero City itself encompasses several dozen intermediate goals. We can work on this project for whole life. There is a lot to explore - if we take the example of small agglomeration of 20 thousand people, which should operate independently of the outside world - it is something that can be solved whole life."

Awarded researchers

They were merged together by their vision of energy self-sufficiency

Researcher Ing. René Krivošík the "originally engineer" and Ing. Michal Gottwald is "originally builder". Both were thrilled and subsequently merged together by the idea of passive houses and energy self-sufficiency together. Because both worked in the private sector at the beginning, they gained practical experience to be able to exchange knowledge about constructions of buildings and energies together, they were able to consult it with each other and connect both worlds of builders and engineers together. Natural heat accumulator was inspired by almost forgotten "zemľanka" houses, and also inspired by "heavy accumulation home" builders . They have been working several years together with the people from the Research Center "ŽUŽ", this cooperation becomes significant after the VC ŽUŽ were established in 2013 (with support from the European Regional Development Fund, the State budget of the Slovak Republic and the University of Zilina through project ITMS 26220220183)."This achieved award is priceless for the Research Center University of Žilina. This is one of the most significant achievements, which will show the way to other researchers, not only within the VC ŽU in Žilina, but also to all our alma mater. The success of our employees showed us the correctness of the decision to create the conditions for close cooperation between people from academic ground and practically skilled ones from industry praxis. Mr. Gottwald and Mr. Krivošík came to us from the world of praxis and we have tried to create an environment for the development of their ideas, which were raised from the problems, which they met on a daily basis. Primary objective of the Research Centre, University of Žilina is to carry out applied research and our goal is to do research for humans. The result, which Mr. Gottwald and Mr. Krivošík achieved is not a complicated science - basic research, but applying innovative approach to achieve the necessary effect for specific use in practice. I evaluate it very high and I want to thank very much for help and cooperation of management, faculty staff working on technical solutions of similar projects within the VC ŽUŽ, especially the Faculty of Civil Engineering, the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and the Faculty of Management Science and Informatics ŽUŽ. And I also thank the FHV, which is very helpful to us in particular to ensure publicity. I am glad that for our research center works a lot of self-sacrificing people, not only researchers, but also other employees, who are also an integral part of the team. Thanks to them we are also be able to achieve similar success, as Michal and René achieved. Of course, most of the success is thanks to the authors ideas. We are honored to work with them in the same team., " doc. Ing. Branislav Hadzima, PhD. –  managing director of  Research Center ŽU in Žilina commented on this success.

Original text by: Slávka Pitoňáková

Research Center University of Žilina

Photo: Silvia Antolová

Translated by: LŠ

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Technical Sciences