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June 14, 2024

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Update 2023/5/1
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Renewable Heat Solution For Heavy Industry
Calgary start-up SolarSteam uses enclosed concentrated solar technology to reduce industry emissions

Suzanne Forcese

Interview with Apostol Radev, CEO & Founder, SolarSteam

If heavy industry were a country, it would be the largest producer of greenhouse gases on Earth. --Apostol Radev, CEO & Founder, SolarSteam

SolarSteam Pilot in Ponka, Alberta. SolarSteam’s system uses lightweight curved mirrors inside a transparent enclosure to concentrate the sun’s energy onto a receiver. The sunlight heats water to produce steam or hot water to be utilized for industrial, agricultural and space heating/cooling applications. The systems reduce costs by up to 40% by displacing fossil fuels and GHGs by up to 50% compared to conventional-powered heat generation

WT: Congratulations on being named one of the Top 5 Finalists of the Alberta Clean Tech Awards! Please give us an overview of your start-up as you introduce yourself to our viewers.

Radev: I am a Canadian (made in Bulgaria) developing clean technology that inspires people to see themselves standing in the future and being proud they were part of creating a better story for our world.

We are thrilled to share that we have been named as a finalist in Canada’s 2023 Alberta Clean Tech Awards – Venture of the Year Category.

The awards recognize the province’s most cutting-edge innovators, industry partners, investors, government officials, and academics who are advancing climate solutions in Alberta.

SolarSteam Inc. is a Calgary-based start-up that specializes in developing novel solar thermal technologies. Our core technology is based on a patented pending design that uses concentrated solar technology to produce high-temperature heat. This heat can be used in various industrial applications, including food processing, chemical production, and oil and gas extraction.

I developed the concept behind SolarSteam as part of my graduate studies in Sustainable Energy Development at the University of Calgary. Upon completion of my graduate program, I founded SolarSteam in 2017.

Between 2020 and 2022, SolarSteam has engaged with a Calgary-based EPFC, Scovan, (scovan.ca) a wide range of fabricators, manufacturers, suppliers, and leading research institutes such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US, University of Calgary, University of New Brunswick, Lambton College, Red Deer Polytechnic, and CanmetENERGY in Canada to advance the technology

Our core team is a tight-knit, multicultural group of competent and knowledgeable industry experts representing 40% women and 40% youth under 30.

As a new Canadian, I have come to understand and be proud that Alberta has been blessed with vast reserves of natural resources, a rich Aboriginal history and a culture that has made its people resourceful, persistent and hospitable to others.

Our team is driven by the great entrepreneurship and innovation in Alberta’s energy industry, and they firmly believe that the local spirit and skill set will build the bridge to one unified and diverse sustainable energy sector.

WT: What is your vision/mission?

Radev: If heavy industry were a country, it would be the largest producer of greenhouse gases on Earth.

We aspire to be the leader in low-cost renewable heat in extreme climates. Our mission is to enable industry to adopt a plug-and-play renewable heat technology.

Our solution improves performance, and reduces cost and greenhouse gases, while contributing to economic and energy diversity, especially in a post-pandemic economy.

WT: Your focus is on heat generation. Why did you choose this avenue as a means of mitigating climate change?

Radev: SolarSteam aims to decarbonize some of the highest emitting and hardest-to-abate heavy industry segments. The problem we address is the elephant in the room—industrial heat.

In Alberta, approximately two-thirds of GHG emissions come from the industrial sector.

Since the industrial revolution, heat has been generated by burning fossil fuels.

Our technology provides the same product – heat, without the problems of the current solution –supply, cost and emissions.

WT: How does the SolarSteam technology work?

Radev: SolarSteam’s technology uses parabolic trough collectors -- where a parabolically shaped mirror reflects sunlight onto a receiver tube at the collector’s focal line.

The concentrated solar energy on the receiver is converted into heat and transferred to a heat transfer fluid flowing inside the receiver tube.

The achieved high temperatures can then be used for processing heat in industry, institutional, power generation in a coupled power block, or district heating.

Typically, these solar collectors have not been deployed in harsh climates due to the inability of systems to withstand snow, hail and wind. Exposure to such conditions drives up capital and operating costs of solar collectors. 

We have developed an innovative enclosure to protect the solar collector from the elements while providing enough sun exposure to reliably heat the working fluid. The enclosure allows for ultra-lightweight material to be used for the collector and fluid system providing a lower-cost alternative to traditional collectors.

WT: Tell us about your pilot project.

Radev: We currently have a field pilot constructed and commissioned for testing at a TRL 7 level with a commercial partner, Scovan, in Ponka, Alberta. This pilot has 17 data points throughout the system, allowing for the collection and analysis of variables including temperature, pressure, and flow rates, logging every 5 minutes with a daily backup.

To date, the pilot has demonstrated:

  • Temperatures up to 102 degrees Celsius at a flow rate of 60 L/h showing a Delta T of 30 degrees Celsius between the inlet and outlet of the solar receiver
  • Hybrid integration with secondary source heat
  • Successful shutdown and startup at –30C.
  • Withstanding 117 km/h wind and golf ball-sized hail
  • Phase Change Material (PCM) based Thermal Energy Storage (TES) integration
  • Delta T of 50 at low flow across the receiver
  • Remote automated controls
  • Winter operation using boiler feed water with 4 levels of shut-down contingencies

WT: Moving forward...what’s next?

Radev: Our BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) is to deploy 1.3GWt, and reduce 1Gt of CO2 per year by 2030!

We aspire to be a guardian of our environment, our community and our economy. Sustainability is all about how we operate in a safe, responsible and efficient manner


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