Ludgate-WIKA JV signals start of expansion for German smart home, energy harvesting specialist

Micropelt GmbH, the developer and producer of advanced energy harvesting devices has received a significant boost in the form of an investment by the Ludgate Environmental Fund (Ludgate) and WIKA Alexander Wiegand SE & Co. KG (WIKA), a specialist sensor technology company from Germany. The investment, structured as a 50/50 joint venture company, will allow the firm to scale up production and take its technology, core to the ‘smart home’, to the market. Ludgate and WIKA have just announced a joint investment of over €2 million to support the company and provide the required basis for expansion.

An existing portfolio company of Ludgate, Micropelt’s thermoelectric microchips are based on a patented and scalable thin-film technology which reduces component size while maximising power density. The microchips convert waste heat to electricity and generate electricity from small temperature differentials, replacing batteries in wireless sensor networks and micro actuators.

“The thermogenerator chip is the most advanced energy harvesting product on the market. Our self-powered radiator valve plays an integral part in the connected home and has demonstrated significant energy savings opportunities in real world applications. We are now looking forward as we begin the next stage of the company’s growth, taking our microchips to the market, and seeing the technology benefit applications from smart homes to factories.”, says Fritz Volkert, Micropelt CEO.

The firm has benefited from over 15 years of research, starting as a project of Siemens semiconductor subsidiary, Infineon Technologies, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques, an R&D partner to the optical sensor and thin-film technology industry. The project was to investigate the technical feasibility of a thin-film, wafer-based production process for thermoelectric elements, and in 2006 was spun off into an independent company. The initial focus was on developing thermoelectric cooling chips, but by 2007 the focus switched to thermogenerators and the development of energy harvesting devices. The first thermogenerator prototypes were manufactured with the pilot equipment in Freiburg.

“Micropelt has already made a strong name for itself and we are excited by the opportunities to bring the technical expertise of WIKA to the joint venture. We are confident that this cooperation will lead to strong commercial synergies”, says WIKA CEO Alexander Wiegand.

“We are delighted to work together with WIKA, as a respected, market-leading sensor company, to bring this technology to the next level of growth,” says Ludgate Investments CIO, Bill Weil. “Micropelt is at the forefront of developing game-changing technologies and innovative products to bring the connected home to even more consumers”.

The first major application of the technology is the intelligent Thermostatic Radiator Valve (iTRV), a self-powered valve actuator which operates autonomously and is powered by thermal energy harvesting alone. Its compact, modern design enables easy installation on new radiators or for retrofits. Once installed, the iTRV automatically interacts with the thermostat, allowing precise single room temperature control with no maintenance required. For buildings with radiator heating, this is a critical component of smart home heating systems.

Additionally, the company has recently launched its mNODE sensor, which continuously monitors temperature in bus-bars, switchgear, motor control centres and power distribution systems. The mNODE is powered by inductive energy harvesting, converting magnetic fields into electricity, removing the need for batteries or wiring. Its compact [we describe both products as compact, which is true, but seems repetitive] design allows easy retro-fit and requires no maintenance, while efficiently minimising costly downtime incidents.

Europe’s smart home market has seen continuous development over the past decade, and there is growing interest with an upward trend seen in the market size, a new study from British building environment market intelligence provider BSRIA has found.
The Connected and Smart Home product market in Europe grew by almost 19% in the period 2010-2012: In 2010 Europe’s smart home market, which includes products, system integration (design, installation, wiring, customized programming, etc.) and installation labour, was valued at €529.6 million. This is up from the €448.3 million of 2008. In their report on Europe’s Smart Home Market, BSRIA explain that the smart home market in Europe is expected to grow by 8% on average each year to reach approximately €620 million by 2015.

Field devices have the largest share in the smart home product market (€174.9 million), including a range of sensors (motion, light, temperature) and actuators (blinds, curtain, window, door, water valve). User interface is the second largest category (€90.8 million), with the most common user interface devices being LED touch panel types that act as a central control panel. According to the BSRIA report, as smartphones and tablet PCs are becoming more popular, these are turning into a second user interface, and many manufacturers are launching new apps to turn these smart devices into another control on the smart home system.

“We have seen significant growth in the ‘smart home’ market, and increasing interest from energy companies and consumers to take advantage of energy efficiency that can be achieved with this technology,” says Weil. “The acquisition of Nest Labs by Google, the announcement from Apple that they are developing a smartphone app to control the smart home, and news that Samsung is developing a range of smart appliances, all show a trend of growing investment and focus on resource efficiency within the home,” he adds.

“Smart meters and smart homes are set to revolutionise the use of energy by being connected to the internet of things, and all these sensors and meters need to be powered somehow. With our self-powered microchips, the opportunities to enable the fast growth of the smart home market are huge,” says Volkert.

WIKA Alexander Wiegand SE & Co. KG is a global market leader in pressure, temperature and level measurement technology with an annual turnover of approximately 750 million Euros. Working together with our customers, WIKA develops comprehensive solutions based on our high-quality measurement technology components, with the solutions ultimately being integrated in their business processes. WIKA delivers 50 million quality products to over 100 countries every year and approximately 600 million WIKA measuring instruments are in use worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.wika.com

Ludgate Investments is an institutional private equity fund manager focused on energy and industrial efficiency, founded in 2001. Ludgate has a proven investment strategy focused on actively managing its holdings in growth stage companies across Northern Europe. For more information, go to http://www.ludgate.com

More information on Micropelt may be found at http://www.micropelt.com

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