The BCI Start-Up Companies Tackling Sustainable Engineering Innovation
16 January 2023
The Bristol Composites Institute (BCI) has seen the beginnings of multiple start-up companies since starting as ACCIS in 2007.
Playing host to a range of different engineering disciplines, it’s no surprise to see BCI start-ups tackling many problems affecting sustainable development today. Below is an overview of three start-ups led by former BCI PhD students who all graduated with PhDs from the ACCIS or CoSEM centres for doctoral training.
iCOMAT spun out of BCI and co-founded by CEO Dr Evangelos Zympeloudis and Dr ByungChul (Eric) Kim in 2019, and has since grown to 25 staff with blue-chip customers across Europe and USA. They are on a mission to unlock the performance of composites using their fibre steering technology and enable the lightest and the most structurally efficient composite products.
iCOMAT’s Rapid Tow Shearing (RTS) technology is the world’s first defect-free fibre steering process that enables the placement of carbon fibre tapes along curved paths without defects, enabling highly optimised structures. It was originated from the Continuous Tow Shearing (CTS) technology developed at Bristol Composites Institute. The novel process leads to drastically lighter components beyond the limit of conventional straight-fibre designs, while simultaneously lowering manufacturing cost. The process is ideal for high-volume production of complex high-performance composite components used in automotive and aerospace industries such as car frames, aircraft structures, and rocket structures. Such highly efficient structures lead to significantly lower CO2 emissions, both during use (lower weight, less fuel/energy) and during manufacture (minimum waste generation, more effective use of high-value carbon fibre materials).
Simon Bates, Tom Llewellyn-Jones, and Michael Dicker have worked together as researchers for the last 10 years, optimising and simplifying technology for applications spanning the manufacturing, renewable energy, and marine sectors. In 2019, they spun Actuation Lab out of the University of Bristol, with a revolutionary approach to designing industrial hardware.
Aware that the use of hydrogen has the potential to eliminate over half the UK’s carbon emissions, but conscious of how hydrogen leaking from valves can have 11x the Global Warming Potential of CO2, they created the Dragonfly Valve. With an origami-inspired design, it requires the minimum amount of force to operate, preventing many of the leak paths of traditional valves. With help from partners like the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Actuation Lab is aiming to commercialise the Dragonfly Valve in time to meet the pressing needs of the UK’s energy supply.
Matthew Bone started Molydyn to make computational chemistry more accessible to materials scientists, while undertaking his PhD with BCI, in June 2022. Computer modelling can provide direction to laboratory research, reducing costs, saving time, and eliminating waste. The pharmaceuticals industry has been using chemical simulation to discover new drugs for the last 40 years. However, materials science, which can benefit from using the same simulation tools, has seen minimal uptake in modelling.
To support computational chemists, Molydyn has created Atlas, a simple to use web platform that allows users to save 90% of their time pre-processing through automation. This makes using the popular modelling software LAMMPS much quicker and easier, helping new students to learn, and veteran users to research new sustainable materials faster. Molydyn has recently won a £25k innovation prize and Innovate UK funding to work with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to develop case studies showcasing their ability to model polymers and plastics.
The BCI continues to support and promote the success of these start-ups.
BCI Co-Directors Prof. Stephen Hallett and Prof. Ole Thomsen: “We are delighted that fundamental research derived from novel and original ideas in Bristol Composites Institute has led to successful and highly innovative spin-outs. It serves as a testament to the impact of BCI’s research and the power of researchers in BCI in delivering added value to UK industry and society at large”.
Prof. Michele Barbour, Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor Enterprise & Innovation, University of Bristol: “The Bristol Composites Institute has a rich history of innovation and enterprise, and the three companies that are highlighted in this report are superb examples of that entrepreneurial spirit combined with world-leading engineering research and the commitment to realise the impact of that research outside of an academic environment. The companies Profs Thomsen and Hallett highlight here are diverse in their technology and focus but united in their aspirations to make real, lasting and impactful contributions some of our biggest global challenges, particularly to addressing climate breakdown and the need for truly sustainable processes and technologies. I will continue to follow the stories of these great companies and the inspiring people who lead them, and have no doubt that more exciting new spin-outs and start-ups will emerge from BCI in the months and years to come”.