Thermulon is an advanced materials startup with a simple ambition: to transform the construction industry and deliver energy-efficient buildings without compromising on fire safety. The company spun out of Deep Science Ventures in 2019, having developed a novel chemical pathway to scalably produce aerogels: nanoporous materials that are known for their excellent insulating properties. Since then, the team have been optimizing the production process, developing methodology to incorporate waste streams into production and driving commercilisation. Thermulon are a member of INAM and their technology has so far been recognised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (2019 Emerging Tech Winner), Royal Commission Exhibition of 1851 (Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship)and Innovate UK.
INAM, the Innovation Network for Advanced Materials, interviewed Thermulon’s founders, Dr Sam Cryer (CEO), Alex Murdock (CTO) and Rozalie Ryclova (COO) and asked them to share more about the company, technology and its potential to transform the construction market.
Sam, it’s great to speak with you and the team again. Let’s start at the beginning: why did you start Thermulon?
Sam Cryer: I’ve always been interested in the world around me and have been concerned about the climate since choosing my chemistry PhD in Solar Materials in 2011. After becoming disillusioned with the topic which was academically interesting but would never be commercially viable, I wanted to work on something that could have a massive positive climate impact, whilst also being in the lens of a startup – having worked in my family’s business since a young age. A highly profitable and scalable company with billion dollar revenues could equate to gigatonnes of carbon reductions – and that’s how the journey of Thermulon began.
Thermulon took part in AdMaCom in 2019. How has your journey been since and what have you been doing over the last 12 months?
Rozalie Ryclova: AdMaCom really gave us a kickstart in Thermulon’s early stages. The accelerator really supported us in forming our IP and go-to-market strategy, and helped us gel as a founding team. To this day, we continue to build on the foundations that we laid with INAM in Berlin. This has been especially important with Covid kicking off soon after.
Alex Murdock: Aside from keeping the ship steady at Thermulon throughout the global pandemic, the last 12 months have been all about getting a technical & commercial development program up and running, and doing our first proofs of concept both in the lab and out in the market.
We’ve got a full wet-lab up and running in London, we integrated our first aerogels into a lime plaster product, and even insulated our first wall in a house in Cumbria using commercial aerogels we have access to in large volume. To build on this we’ve been working on expanding the team, and currently have a PhD student from Germany who has specialized in aerogels working with us. We’re also excited to say that the engineering team is growing with a new full-time team member starting this week.
It has been a busy year for you then. What has been the biggest achievement for you so far?
Alex Murdock: No doubt the biggest achievement of Thermulon to date has been moving a novel chemical process from an idea on a piece of paper, to a real physical process producing the next generation of aerogel products.
On top of all the usual challenges faced by early-stage startups, hard science companies must pass the barriers of convincing the market of the value of investing in long-term development of physical products, and then getting together the team, space & resources to deliver on these goals. The imperative need for new fire-safe insulation products has no doubt helped us along this process, but we shouldn’t discount the significant achievement that has been made in getting a top-tier hard science development program up and running!
Let’s now look into the future - what is your plan over the next 2 years?
Alex Murdock: The next two years promise to be pivotal in the development of Thermulon as a company. The broad theme will be moving from proof-of-concept phase to fully functioning and validated prototypes of our process and product in their relevant environments. On the process side this will mean moving our chemistry out of the flask and batch-based systems, into fully flowing continuous reactors.
The learnings we gain from this will inform the design for our first pilot production facility! On the product & market side, this increased production of aerogel will enable our first on-wall applications of Thermulon-based insulating plasters & renders. By the end of this time period, we want to be in a position of having our process and product in a place where all we need is the need round of funding to deploy them at an impactful scale (1,000 m3/yr of aerogel) in our beachhead market.
Why does the construction industry need a material like Thermulon? And why now?
Rozalie Ryclova: A material that is at the same time highly insulating, affordable and doesn’t compromise on fire safety is a game-changer in an industry that needs to transition to a low-carbon future. The climate agenda means that there’s no time to spare; energy efficiency standards for buildings are becoming increasingly stringent and requirements for fire safety limit the material choices. For example, it is not acceptable to use flammable, plastic-based insulation in tall buildings.
Unless we are happy to keep building thicker and thicker walls with more and more insulation, we must look beyond conventional materials. This is where Thermulon comes in: our insulation can keep buildings energy efficient with a thin wall build-up. In a case study we’ve done with an architectural practice, using Thermulon could make a wall 100mm thinner. If you were to use Thermulon across an entire development, that would add floorspace equivalent to 7 one-bed apartments! That is truly transformational.
Tackling the climate emergency is firmly on your agenda. How will you have a positive climate impact?
Sam Cryer: Insulating homes and offices is an absolutely crucial tool to use in the fight against climate change. Here in the UK, around 40% of energy consumption is attributable to the built environment every year, and it’s similar across much of Europe. Insulating buildings reduces this energy demand by requiring less heat to get up to temperature.
Rozalie Ryclova: For example, consider Thermulon’s beachhead market - UK’s over 7m hard-to-treat buildings with solid walls. The potential energy savings from insulating these buildings alone could be 1.6TWh/year. That’s the annual electricity consumption of over 400,000 households.
We are also developing a process that uses waste as a source material. This could at the same time avoid the amount of waste going to landfill and reduce the amount of carbon embodied in Thermulon’s insulation. This workstream is in early stages but we have already produced first aerogels from waste.
Bringing a new material to market that could have great environmental impact, that is truly exciting. What excites you most about your work?
Sam Cryer: On a day to day basis I really love the ability to be working on so many different aspects of the business, from meeting interesting people, to deep chats about the technology, followed by pitching at an event – the variety and watching the company grow is really exciting.
More importantly though it’s the mission. The potential impact that a product like Thermulon could have is truly an industry game-changer. When you care so passionately about the climate, it’s hard to know where to focus your time – and having something I truly believe in keeps me excited every day.
How is your business funded?
Rozalie Ryclova: We work with a combination of private and project-based grant funding. So far, we’ve been very lucky to work with great angel investors prominent impact investors like Deep Science Ventures and Sustainable Ventures. Now, we’ve decided to share Thermulon’s future success with a bigger community of investors via crowdfunding. It’s been an amazing journey so far and we’re excited for more investors to join us on our journey: to use our novel material to make buildings more energy efficient.
Thermulon, congratulations on your progress so far. All of us at INAM with you the best of luck in your journey and in this funding round!
Thermulon’s funding round is now live on Crowdcube!
Become a part of a science-driven transition to a better built environment with Thermulon’s advanced materials in the fight against the climate crisis.
Learn more by visiting their Crowdcube Page
Visit Thermulon’s Website
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INAM, the Innovation Network for Advanced Materials, is a global network of companies and research institutes in the field of Advanced Materials. INAM’s goal is to enable the right connections and make technological innovations become reality by working closely with startups, SMEs, corporations and research institutes to start, grow and transform the development of Advanced Materials.
For more information visit: https://www.inam.berlin/
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