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The Sun rising above the clouds

Shaping solar energy to meet demands

Oxford University Spinout

Odqa is a solar power spinout company from the Department of Engineering Science and the Said Business School. Odqa is working on specialist technology to ensure that solar power can meet our energy demands, be cost effective and become a viable replacement for non-renewable energy sources. We spoke to CEO, Gediz Karaca, to find out more.

“The biggest challenge we (and everyone) face is our race against greenhouse emissions. Every kg of greenhouse emission is contributing to the change of our climate and this has profound consequences on everything we know.” says Gediz Karaca, the CEO of Engineering Science spinout and solar power company Odqa.

“Currently, we are burning fossil fuels for nearly all industrial processes (from cement to plastics production) and replacing fossil fuels with the Sun is a priority for Odqa. This represents roughly one-third of all the energy we use.”

“We need mature, technological solutions and Odqa are preparing for this big push as a company. It will be a trillion-dollar per annum push that we will see in our lifetimes.”

Having seen a huge leap in the transition to renewable electricity and steps towards renewable heat transition in the last ten years, Karaca believes the next frontier in renewable electricity transition is the storage of renewable energy.

Odqa is part of the Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) industry, which uses different technological designs to harness more concentrated solar power compared to the traditional solar panels we are more familiar with. CSP plants store solar power as heat and are the most likely candidate to replace the use of non-renewable energy sources in the immediate future. Karaca says, “Current CSP plants are already the cheapest on-demand solar energy source, but they have to be large-scale infrastructure projects to be at the right cost profile. Our novel receiver technology enables third-generation CSP plants, which would be the cheapest and smallest CSP plants in the world.”

Odqa’s high-tech solar receiver improves efficiency and enables reductions to the cost of capturing and storing the Sun’s energy for conversion into power. “Existing receivers contain heat transfer materials, for example molten salts, that severely affect the plant operation. Using common materials such as steel, ceramics and air, our plants can operate with much greater flexibility. We can operate our system from 800°C up to 1,500°C. This paves the way for projects up to ten times smaller at the same cost profile, or a cost decrease of up to 40% compared with same-size second-generation CSP plants.”

Karaca explains,

“Odqa is on a journey towards creating the world’s cheapest on-demand solar power. What that means is that even when the Sun isn’t shining, we can generate electricity cheaply and efficiently thanks to our aerospace technology.”

Another benefit is the way Odqa will be able to act flexibly, “Our CSP plants will act like smart/cheap batteries for the grid, increasing the grid stability by buying electricity when there is excess supply and selling it when it is needed. By using smart algorithms and connectivity between smart hubs, our smart hubs will track the batteries in our power plants and decide in real-time which power plant should buy the electricity and when they should discharge according to transmission line capacity and demand centres in the grid. This will increase the PV [solar panels] and wind farm capacity of the grid and reduce the curtailment problem.”

Odqa was spun out of Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science in 2018. Heat transfer expert Professor Peter Ireland, the Donald Schultz Chair in Turbomachinery and Director of the University of Oxford’s Thermofluids Institute, is Chief Science Officer and co-founder of the company. Odqa is backed by Oxford Sciences Innovation, as well as a number of high-profile individual investors. Karaca explains, “Odqa started as an entrepreneurship project in the Said Business School. Ahmed (my co-founder) and I were doing an MBA between 2016-17 and we had to do an entrepreneurship project to graduate. We thought since we are in the best university in the world surrounded by top scientists why not push for something real? We started thinking "if we had a clean canvas to create a clean energy network how we would design it?". We identified it is neither easy nor practical to store energy in the form of electricity so we started looking into solutions which include thermal storage instead of electrical batteries. We reached out to Professor Peter Ireland at the of Oxford Thermofluids Institute and one of the leading experts in heat transfer. We are very lucky to have him on board as one of our co-founders in Odqa.”

“It is great to be part of a world-class engineering team. We are developing the world’s first high performing high temperature solar thermal receiver."

"To design such a device, we are using decades of accumulated knowledge of aerospace expertise in Oxford. All the modelling tools, materials and principles we use are developed for world-leading jet engine research which is well tested, accurate and highly reliable. To be part of this knowledge transfer is very exciting and intellectually rewarding.”

Recently, the company has been issued a convertible loan worth £1.2m as part of the UK government’s coronavirus Future Fund for innovative companies. It will use the loan to further develop its flagship technology after postponing a planned round of seed funding following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Odqa’s founders envisage CSP developing into a multi-trillion-dollar industry over the coming decades, as the world moves towards renewable energy, with the company’s receiver technology unlocking a $2tr market opportunity.

Karaca added, “We are taking decades of research and knowledge from the aerospace industry and applying it to the renewables sector. As well as being used for on-demand energy for CSP, our high-temperature receiver could have applications including 24/7 industrial process heat, hydrogen production, water desalination, the production of solar aviation fuel, and the decarbonisation of products such as gas or steam turbines. At the moment, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg that is the decarbonisation of energy.”

“Our next step is to use the data from our proof-of-concept prototype to develop a small-scale replica of the final product, which we will design and test over the next six months. We have also received a grant from Innovate UK to explore the feasibility of constructing a CSP plant with our technology in Namibia.”

In terms of hopes for the future, Karaca concludes “Science and technology are two keys which will enable sustainable and green living. The rate of technical and scientific development we see now is unprecedented. We have made great strides in the quality of life compared to even one hundred years ago which is a very short duration of time compared to the history of humankind. I am very hopeful for the next hundred years. All we need is hard work and good intentions.”

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