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Startup tackles decarbonizing industrial heat processes

Skyven's solar panels

Skyven's solar panels offer one solution for decarbonizing industrial heat.

Skyven Technologies

Skyven Technologies, founded in 2013, is a company with a unique proposition for companies in the industrial sector — a way to save money through decarbonizing.

Skyven CEO Arun Gupta said the idea came when he applied the thinking behind his Ph.D. dissertation in microelectronics to an entirely different field: climate change. "I was able to figure out how to apply the technological concepts of the work that I was doing for Texas Instruments for a partial solution for climate change, and that inspired me to start working on is basically a technology that captures heat from the sun and uses that heat to reduce fuel consumption," he said.

The component of the industry sector emissions Skyven seeks to decarbonize is process heat — such as the creation of steam — which accounts for a large component of the emissions from the industry sector.

In order to manufacture products, companies in the industry sector must burn fuel, typically natural gas, to create heat. Technologies such as geothermal, biomass and solar, which Skyven initially focused on, can provide an alternative to natural gas to generate heat for industrial processes. This is particularly relevant in the sectors Skyven works in: the food and beverage manufacturing industry; pulp and paper; chemicals; pharmaceutical manufacturing; textiles; and primary metals and lumbers.

Rather than trying to fit one technology or one solution into every plant, we found that the plants are all unique and they have unique needs.

In 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the three largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions were transportation (28 percent), electricity (27 percent), and industry (22 percent). Even with decarbonizing the electric and transportation sector, to reach long-term goals of the Paris Agreement, the United States would need an 80 percent reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide emissions by 2050. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions found five core imperatives to reaching climate neutrality, including electrifying or switching to low-carbon fuels in the industry sector.

While providing an alternative using solar technology was the original technological goal for Skyven, the company has evolved significantly, adapting to the individual needs of different companies in the industrial sector, Gupta said.

Rather than focusing solely on deploying the company’s initial in-house solar technology, Skyven transformed quickly into a company offering a multipronged approach for decarbonizing the industrial sector. "The need for decarbonization in the industrial sector spans far beyond solar. Rather than trying to fit one technology or one solution into every plant, we found that the plants are all unique and they have unique needs," Gupta said. "It makes a lot more sense to meet those unique needs with unique solutions."

Typically, in order to determine these needs and gauge applicable solutions, Skyven employs a four-step procedure: initial plant analysis; addressing and mitigating concerns about potential solutions; deployment and implementation of solution; and operations and maintenance (O&M). This highly customizable procedure allows Skyven to determine the best fit solution company-to-company, and within that company, plant-to-plant, rather than deploying a general technology.

As part of this process, Skyven’s team completes a thorough initial analysis using its custom platform, asking the customer specific questions and collecting data about where in the plant thermal energy is consumed. From there, Skyven identifies where there are opportunities to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, reduce fuel consumption and save money. Interacting with the customer is especially important for the manufacturing industry, where production is profit, Gupta said.

Using that analysis, Skyven implements the technologies best suited for the plant, which can include Skyven’s solar technology, but does not always. Because of this, Skyven frequently partners with other startups and technology manufacturers. When the new system is in place, Skyven hires a third-party maintenance contractor with extensive experience with industrial hardware.

Typically, Skyven pays for everything involved in the process — from initial analysis to equipment and to O&M, Gupta said. The only cost to the customer is a newly lowered fuel cost amount, he said. These payments cover more cost-efficient and sustainable thermal energy at a cost that is less than the customer otherwise would have paid for fossil fuel, according to the company.

While Gupta did not communicate the names of Skyven’s current customers, citing sensitivity around publicly disclosing information about manufacturers, he discussed recent press coverage around the Copses Dairy Farms in New York state.

Skyven Technologies CEO Arun Gupta

“[Skyven’s] model of billing for the heat produced rather than charging for the project is an innovative model in the space, and to our knowledge, no else is really doing that.” — Skyven Technologies CEO Arun Gupta

Skyven installed an array of high temperature solar collectors, which captured heat from the sun, and used the heat to heat water for sanitation purposes, Gupta said. The panels can produce 50,000 gallons of water annually, according to a press release issued by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Skyven won the $1 million grand prize in NYSERDA’s annual 76West Clean Energy Competition in 2017.

Skyven bills on a monthly or quarterly basis for the actual heat that is produced by the system, measured by Skyven’s state-of-the-art sensors. Skyven puts a fixed discount on fuel costs, one that varies depending on the individual contract.

"[Skyven’s] model of billing for the heat produced rather than charging for the project is an innovative model in the space, and to our knowledge, no else is really doing that," Gupta said.

Steven Berkenfield, one of Skyven’s advisors and a former managing director at Barclays Capital, said the model is similar to the "energy efficiency as a service" model sometimes applied to commercial buildings.

"I’ve seen companies go into office buildings or multi- story shopping centers, and they’ll go in and put in LEDs, solar, storage or electric heat pumps, and they’ll do the same thing as Skyven is doing in terms of covering all the capital costs, and it’ll get paid out over time," he said. "There were many companies that were taking a capital expense and turning it into an operating expense for the customer, but they weren’t doing it in the industrial sector."

Decarbonization comes at a steep price that can be economically infeasible and potentially could jeopardize the company’s production speed, overall profit and advantage over competitors. Despite the fact Skyven is able to pay the capital cost for its customers, this may not be practical for all companies. For now, statewide incentives, such as NYSER

DA’s Industrial and Process Efficiency Program, could assist in reducing the cost of switching.

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