Skip to main content

Dielectric MicroSpacer Technology

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DMS (Dielectric MicroSpacer Technology)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-09-30

"The Dielectric MicroSpacers (DMS) represent the key-enabling-technology (KET) to solve the technical problem of establishing fixed and stable physical gaps of few micrometres between two flat surfaces by ensuring electrical and thermal insulation. DMS technology is obtaining an important role in enhancing the efficiency of thermal-to-electric converters, especially the thermionic ones (TECs) where the historical limitation is in the lack of a technology able to establish a stable micrometric gap between the electrodes, causing a significant reduction of efficiency. DMS technology allows TECs working close to ideal conditions, with an increase of efficiency estimated to range from +50% to +250%, depending on the operating temperatures. This would boost TEC permeation in the sector of exhaust thermal energy recovery and would pave the route to application in other hi-tech sectors such as conversion of concentrated solar energy, transport, electronics, and ICT.

The importance of thermal-to-electric converters is exponentially growing in a modern society based on energy and to its efficient usage. A huge amount of thermal energy is lost in several manufacturing steps by industry, in transport vehicles, and also in domestic environments. DMS technology can be exploited in the medium-term for a capillary introduction of TECs in the huge sector of industrial heat recovery (petroleum and coal industry, chemical and primary metal manufacturing, etc.), corresponding to a market of 2 B€/year in US and EU. The applicative sectors of TECs are expanding also beyond heat recovery. Moreover, efficient TEC technology is going to enable a more efficient exploitation of concentrated solar energy and geothermic plants, thus inducing wider possibilities of application. All the described technologies and other applications such as electronics and automotive can receive benefits from DMS technical solution for a mature development and near-future commercialization.

The numbered objectives (O#) of the project were:
O1) Expanding the potential of the technique by analyzing possible improvements.
O2) Analyzing possible other technologies needing the application of DMS in order to enlarge the technological impact.
O3) Protecting the technology by preparing and submitting at least one international patent application.
O4) Analyzing the market and business opportunities on the basis of a document prepared by external business advisory services.
O5) Drafting an exploitation plan for the technology.
O6) Individuating and contacting possible stakeholders for a technology transfer."
The project activities can be divided into four topics: 1) extension, 2) protection, 3) exploitation, 4) promotion of the DMS technology.

Extension of the technology was a twofold technical activity, in turn divided into analysis of the technology potential and extension of the applicative sectors. The objective of this topic was to prepare an extended technical verification of DMS potential and, on the other hand, to enlarge the possible applications of technology, so to widen the protected intellectual property value by refined technical parameters and applications. Both the performed analyses were fundamental for the following technology protection phase.

Protection was divided into three sub-activities: a) landscape report of existing previous IPR performed by a specialized consultant company; b) critical analysis of novelty elements of DMS technology with respect to the previous IPR; c) drafting and filing of the European patent application “METHOD FOR FABRICATING DIELECTRIC MICRO-SPACERS ON DIFFERENT SUBSTRATES” performed by a specialized consultant company.

For the exploitation activity, the DMS consortium was extremely open to absorb elements of valorisation to be used for technological results and to increase the entrepreneurial capacity of the personnel involved. The consortium attended the FET2RIN initiative and the basic concepts therein acquired were strengthened by the interaction of a coach provided by the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot coaching programme. The coaching support allowed DMS consortium to quantify the feasible markets and to determine two business models, as well as to draw the guidelines of the exploitation plan by defining a Lean Canvas table for each business model.

Promotion of DMS technology was and is being performed with participation to innovation exhibitions organized at a European level such as European Business Network (EBN) Congress 2017 and EIC Innovators’ Summit, where pitches, discussions, and general presentations were performed with and at the presence of the major European and international stakeholders for innovation technologies. At an international level, DMS contributed to reply to the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions. The DMS technology was also promoted in local workshops organized by the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) with industrial stakeholders. A more specific promotion is ongoing by organizing meetings with local hi-tech companies interested to the DMS innovation. The opportunities provided by the different features of DMS were discussed with potential customers, and the initial feedback of some of them was positive.
"The DMS technology is technically beyond the state of the art, since it enables TECs operating in conditions close to the ideal ones. However, the activity of the DMS project does not deal with technical development but with valorisation of the technology in the path towards its commercialization. Under this point of view, progresses beyond the state of the art were 1) protection of the technical results, 2) exploitation road map according to business models defined by the consortium; 3) market quantification in concentrating solar power if DMS is the KET for successful application of TECs.

The achieved results, perfectly in line with the envisaged objectives (O#), are:
O1) A study on the possible technical improvements to realize the limitations of the DMS technology. This activity was fundamental to better identify the technical wideness of the technology with regards to its patenting process.
O2) An accurate technical investigation of all the possible applications needing DMS. The technical feasibility represented the obvious constraint of the successively performed economic feasibility analysis.
O3) The preparation and the submission of a European patent application describing the fabrication procedure of the DMS technology, filed on the November 30th, 2018, with the application number EP18209581.0.
O4) The identification of the specific market of thermal-to-electric converters in solar concentrating systems as the closest target market for the DMS application: its analysis with the hypothetic introduction of a DMS technology, able to prepare a competitive product, was performed according to different market permeation hypotheses. The evaluation of a realistic total revenue in the 5-year period after the technology commercialization of 165 M€ with a possible market share >30%.
O5) The development of an exploitation plan reporting the guidelines for the transfer of the DMS technology, with the definition of an effective strategy for promotion inflected into different scheduling times and as a function of the intervention sector.
O6) The participation to several events organized locally and at European level as first promoting activities finalized to a technology transfer."