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  2. Start-up Spectro Inlets and E.ON to digitalise the biogas industry

Spectro Inlets was one of three start-up companies that won an innovation internship after attending E.ON Denmark’s accelerator program #accelerateCPH. As a result, they moved into E.ONs Danish headquarters in Frederiksberg, where they worked side by side with E.ON experts for three months during spring 2017 to develop a sustainable business model for their invention. Six months later, the internship has turned into a new joint venture. Together they will be offering digital products that help biogas producers convert big data into concrete valuable knowledge. The joint venture aims at digitalising an otherwise conservative production form to help the industry increase production capacity and build cheaper biogas plants.

The reward of many years spent in school, on research, and in laboratories is now very visible for the two founders of Spectro Inlets, Daniel Trimarco and Anil Thilsted. Surprisingly enough, not least to the founders of Spectro Inlets, everything has suddenly gone very fast after they joined E.ONs accelerator program.

“We joined the program a little late, and suddenly we were told that we had been selected as one of the winners of an innovation internship. Half a year later, we find ourselves in the middle of establishing a joint venture with an international energy company. It has been an extremely valuable learning process and a bit of a wild journey,” says Anil Thilsted, who, in addition to being co-founder of Spectro Inlets, also holds a Ph.D. in Nanotechnology from DTU in Copenhagen.

Contact Information

E.ON Denmark

Peter Kragh Halling
Project Manager #accelerateCPH
Mobile +45 2023 4003

Karen Marie Jensen
Communications Manager
Mobile +45 3038 6183

Spectro Inlets ApS

Anil Thilsted

Mobile +45 4126 5916

It started at university

The foundation stone of Spectro Inlets was laid together with Daniel Trimarco, Ph.D. in Physics, when they both started their studies at DTU. Their go to market idea was born in 2016.

Together they have developed a microchip and related software that, in real time, measures and analyses gas molecules like oxygen and hydrogen in liquids. The invention is particularly interesting for the petrochemical industry, for wastewater plants and for the growing green biogas sector. For the first time, researchers have found a solution that provides access to these extremely valuable measurements. DTU helps Spectro Inlets get their solution patented, and the invention is now being commercialised.

Digitalising an analogue industry

According to Chief Innovation Officer in E.ON Denmark, Lars van Hauen, the purpose of the new joint venture is to develop products that will give biogas producers access to previously unknown and unique knowledge.

“As an energy company and biogas producer, we are interested in the entire value chain including what actually happens around the production. Together with Spectro Inlets, we will develop and offer digital products that will give the industry access to new data analysis and methodology that can be directly transformed into operational efficiency data and plant optimisation. The solution will help digitalise an industry that is otherwise very analogous”, Van Hauen says.

Close collaboration speeds up development process

A joint dedicated effort is the result of the process that Spectro Inlets and E.ON went through during the three months under the same roof.

“E.ON’s industry knowhow has been crucial to what we have managed to do in a very short time. Due to a very close and confident teamwork with E.ON’s biogas experts, E.ON enabled us to see completely new potentials in our invention and to identify business opportunities which we had not spotted ourselves. In fact, we never thought it would be particularly interesting for the rapidly growing biogas industry, but E.ON saw that,” Anil says.

The course of the program made Spectro Inlets so confident that they hired their first employee during the internship, a hardware engineer. A big step for a new start-up. Instead of pilot testing the solution in a test facility, E.ON also gave Spectro Inlets direct access to test their solution in a fully operational production line at E.ON’s biogas plant Sønderjysk Biogas, which is also the biggest biogas plant in Denmark.

Spectro Inlets is also in the process of establishing an academic partnership with Aarhus University via Denmark’s leading biogas academic centre in Foulum, where they hope to perform additional tests.

Big potential for the biogas sector

The solution from Spectro Inlets gives access to valuable dynamic data in biogas production, because these big data enable the gas components to be analysed in the fluid. Biogas producers thus gain access to much more valuable details about the production conditions. So far, the capacity and output of biogas plants are often relied upon by a skilled operator’s professional experience and good ‘gut’ feeling for production optimisation. With the help from Spectro Inlet, precise data is now on the table.

In the future, the new big data can e.g. inform operational management how to optimise control of the bacterial balance in the plant’s digestion tank. An optimal bacterial balance can increase production capacity by squeezing out as much gas as possible from the raw materials coming into the plant. This knowledge is hugely valuable to biogas producers because they gain insight into what promotes and inhibits an optimal bacterial balance. An otherwise challenging issue in the biogas industry, since it is difficult to strike just the right balance. The reason being partly because biogas producers are interested in producing as much gas as possible, and partly because they also wish to avoid pushing the bacteria so hard that they die. Should the latter happen, the plant must be restarted with new content which is obviously a time-consuming and expensive process.

Over time, the data provided by Spectro Inlets’ solution can also tell manufacturers how and when to adjust the plant and commodity intake and the combination to achieve optimum production capacity. The new knowledge is attractive from several perspectives because it can:

1) increase earnings from biogas production through production optimisation

2) help design and optimise future biogas plants already in the project phase. In this way, both over - or under - sized installations are avoided.

3) provide access to knowledge about the fertilizer value of the residues. Important knowledge to the farmers who use degassed manure as fertilizer.

A new partnership

For E.ON, the collaboration process with Spectro Inlets has been a very positive experience, and E.ON has high expectations for the future collaboration. Lars van Hauen sees the process of E.ON and Spectro Inlets working together as a very tangible example of the key purpose of E.ON’s acelerator program; namely tying the gap between innovation and creating new business opportunities in new partnerships while ensuring that both parties are winners.

The joy of cooperation is mutual, Anil concludes: “In record time, E.ON has taught us how to attract investments and how to transform an idea into real business. E.ON has also proved to be far more innovative and risky than we thought. It has really been an eye opener and a huge learning process for us. We are impressed that EON has shown us so much confidence that we are now establishing a joint venture with them that can boost earnings in the biogas industry through increased digitalization.“