Catalsys: Powering Sustainable Infrastructure with IP Protection

Catalsys Image

It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention”, and as someone who’s spent over two decades working with inventors and innovation on IP Protection, I have seen it time and again.

The need to reduce carbon emissions is pushing us to a world where our transportation, homes and industrial processes must run on clean, renewable electricity.  Improvements in battery technology are making electric vehicles a viable and increasingly attractive option, while next-generation electric heat pumps can be used to heat and cool homes.

This is encouraging but there are still challenges.  If we are to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, electrical grids will require upzgrades to handle the increased demand and new energy storage solutions will be needed to ensure a reliable electricity supply.

Temporary or remote sites face even greater issues, as the main grid is primarily designed for permanent and stable sources of demand and supply.  Connecting these sites to the main grid may not be justifiable, or even possible.

Catalsys offers a solution that epitomizes the essence of Sustainable Development Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, which aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. The UN states that to achieve this goal it is essential to invest in advanced technologies, increase mobile broadband access, support the least developed countries and lower carbon emissions.

Catalsys has created an innovative zero-carbon generator that enables electric power production at scale wherever needed. Its founders are using IP rights to protect the output of their research efforts to encourage further investment, so that they can bring their solution to the world.

Catalsys

 

As part of our World IP Day series, I am delighted to explore Catalsys’ vision with two of its founders Kevin Fothergill and Peter Gray.

Alex: Kevin and Peter, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be involved with Catalsys?

We both have decades of experience in the chemical industry and have spent several years developing and commercialising new hydrogen technologies within large corporations. We both left full time employment around 2016, as it became widely acknowledged that green hydrogen would play a big role in the clean energy transition and began advising companies on how they could participate in this opportunity.  Whilst green hydrogen is a good solution in many situations, we quickly recognised that it can be very expensive as an option for producing electrical power in places with a poor or non-existent grid connection. We formed Catalsys, together with our other founder, David Hughes, to solve this problem.

Alex: It sounds like the three of you had a clear goal when you formed the company, can you tell us more about the shared vision that drives your innovation in sustainable energy solutions?

Green hydrogen can be most cheaply produced in places with the lowest cost renewable electricity, such as the Middle East.  Unfortunately, it is very expensive to transport due to its low density, but many large corporations have now realised that it can be transported world-wide, at very low cost if it is first converted into liquid ammonia.  Numerous projects to produce green ammonia have been announced and more than 100 million tonnes per year of this ‘hydrogen carrier’ could be produced by 2030.  Catalsys has developed a unique technology to convert this green ammonia directly into electrical power on end-user sites. The system is contained within a single shipping container and can be a drop-in replacement for the diesel-fuelled generators that are currently used to generate off-grid power. Our vision is to have Catalsys ‘GREENBOX®’ generators assembled and deployed throughout the world. There is a major opportunity to use our generators in developing countries where limited grid infrastructure hinders economic growth.

Alex: Catalsys GREENBOX® generators could be life-changing for people all over the world, can you explain a little about the technology behind the generators and what makes it sustainable?

Inside the GREENBOX® generator, we partially convert or ‘crack’ the ammonia back into hydrogen, producing a fuel mixture that can be used in a conventional spark ignition engine, which in turn is attached to a generator.  The key to the technology is the ability to crack the ammonia at low temperature, as this means we only need to use the heat in the engine exhaust gas to do this.  No other external energy is required to convert the ammonia into a combustible fuel and hence this part of the process is effectively 100% efficient.  It also means that we don’t need any external utility connections to the GREENBOX® generator and it is able to operate totally off-grid.

Alex: That is indeed a significant step forward, how do you feel that your pending IP protection has contributed to the development of your business?

Investors always prefer start-ups to have some protectable IP that differentiates them from the competition.  Whilst we also have a lot of know-how and trade secrets, the prospect of patentable technology makes us more attractive to investors and it also increases our valuation.

Alex: In 2023 we carried out an IP audit for Catalsys to provide an overview of the current status of your IP and some suggestions for the future.  Did the results of the audit change your approach and is this something you would recommend for other start-ups?

In our previous lives in large corporations, we have always benefited from in-house IP specialists to make sure that we protect our innovations appropriately.  As a start-up, of course, we don’t have those kinds of resources and IP protection is just one of many things that we need to think about, but it doesn’t always get up the priority list. It was very helpful for AA Thornton to do an audit to ensure that we have a good understanding of what we are doing and what we should be doing. It also identified that there were several elements of IP that we may have undervalued and that some innovations that we had assumed would not be patentable may, in fact, be so.  We did tend to assume that because we thought a feature was fairly obvious to us, that it would not be patentable – but perhaps we know too much!

The audit also highlighted that we did not have a systematic approach to recording inventions and keeping track of our trade secrets and that there would be benefit in registering some of our trademarks.  We have taken this advice and I think this does add tangible value, particularly in the eyes of potential investors.

Alex: You have mentioned that having patent protection and a clear IP strategy has made you more attractive to investors, why is this?

The fact that we have made some patent applications that we might not otherwise have made, clearly increases our credibility, differentiation and therefore value to investors.  Also, having a clear view of our trade secrets means that we are able to provide evidence of the strength of our technology to investors in a convincing way. This clarity has also been used to inform our technology development roadmap and the IP strategy associated with it.

Alex: Thank you, Kevin and Peter, for taking the time to share your vision and the role intellectual property has played in helping you to develop a commercially viable solution to a serious problem.  I hope it will help other start-ups to understand how good use of the intellectual property system can help them to attract investment and commercialise their ideas, so that they can go into production and benefit the wider community.

This article is a part of our World IP Day series exploring the role of IP in achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals and ‘Building our common future with innovation and creativity’. Click here for the introductory article and links to the full series.

If you have any queries regarding this topic, or would like assistance implementing your IP protection and strategy, please contact our team.


Category: News | Author: Alex Bone | Published: | Read more

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