Brussels, 25 Jun 2003
Taking a concept for an innovative product or process and making it a commercial success can be a risky and drawn out process, especially when such a concept involves a large scale industrial process which has never before been implemented.
The success of such a venture depends on a number of factors, not least in proving that the new technology can deliver tangible benefits. But even having achieved this, there are no guarantees that a concept will gain general market acceptance. This is why external support during the commercialisation phase of a project is so vital, and can make the difference between success and failure.
This has certainly been the case for the TUBEK project. TUBEK (turbine before the kiln) is a novel concept that applies cogeneration of heat and power (CHP) techniques to the industrial manufacture of ceramic or clay tiles. Simply put, the heat from the exhaust gases of industrial turbines within a tile factory is fed into the kilns used to fire the tiles, delivering significant energy savings and reducing both primary and secondary pollution.
The first challenge for the TUBEK consortium was to generate resources in order to test their theoretical process under laboratory conditions. This was achieved by winning Commission funding under its Fourth Framework Programme for research, and resulted in the construction of an experimental rig which proved the viability of the concept.
Having proven the benefits of the new process in the laboratory, the next challenge was to demonstrate that it could be applied under industrial conditions. As Dr Thanasis Katsanevakis of Enervac-Flutec Ltd, one of the consortium partners, explained to CORDIS News: 'One of our partners in the project, Kothalis Ceramics Industry, is an industrial tile manufacturer, and persuading them to apply the TUBEK concept in their plant was essential.'
In order to offset the cost and risk associated with introducing the new technology, Enervac-Flutec decided to apply for funding from the Greek government, from a pool which was supported through the Commission's Structural Funds. This provided 35 per cent of the total cost of the infrastructure, with the rest being split between the two partners.
With over 8,000 hours of commercial operation under its belt, the TUBEK partners have proved that applying CHP to the manufacture of tiles can reduce energy costs by more than 20 per cent. When one considers that energy costs can constitute 30 per cent of a plant's total costs, this translates to a reduction of 6 per cent of total expenditure - a significant saving.
Despite such an overwhelming commercial success, Dr Katsanevakis explains that TUBEK is still in the pre commercial phase: 'We need to secure several more customers before we can show conclusively that TUBEK has gained market approval,' he said.
As part of their strategy for achieving this, Enervac-Flutec decided to publicise TUBEK on the Commission's portal for the promotion of emerging technologies, the CORDIS Technology Marketplace (TMP). The results were almost immediate. A month after its publication in December 2002, the TUBEK announcement received firm interest from a US based venture capital firm, and shortly after that, Dr Katsanevakis was contacted by the technical centre for tiles and bricks in France with a request for further information.
But the generation of avenues of firm interest was just one of the positive results of exposure in TMP. 'While it is hard to quantify the benefits of such exposure, I can say that of all the people who have approached us regarding TUBEK, 50 per cent are as a result of reading about the process in TMP. Furthermore, from our experiences of contacting potential partners to generate interest, it is obvious that the technology announcement on CORDIS has raised awareness of the process,' said Dr Katsanevakis.
With business plan preparations underway and various potential collaborations in the pipeline, there is genuine hope that TUBEK will become a widely accepted commercial process, and if that proves to be the case, EU support will have played a key role in its ultimate success.
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