Aug. 6, 2021
UCalgary alum heats up Mayor’s Innovation Challenge
A UCalgary alumnus and his company have been named as finalists in a competition aimed at spurring energy innovation in Calgary.
Apostol Radev, MSc (SEDV)'17, started SolarSteam in 2017 after identifying a number of industries that could benefit from thermal energy applications, including petrochemical, oil and gas, district heating, and industrial processing. For the last year, SolarStream has been a participant in Innovate Calgary’s GreenSTEM program, receiving $250,000 in commercialization support with funding from the Government of Alberta.
“Everybody talks about renewable power and renewable electricity, but there is a segment — renewable heat — that represents 32 per cent of the energy needs we have, so how come we are barely talking about and barely addressing it?” says Radev.
Radev began researching the principles of concentrated solar energy as part of his capstone project, particularly focusing on developing a concentrated solar energy system specifically designed for harsh weather conditions like those experienced in Alberta.
After completing this project, Radev was encouraged to take it beyond academia and turn it into a business. He incorporated SolarSteam as an Alberta corporation just a few months after completing his master’s degree.
Solar energy in extreme climates
SolarSteam has developed a concentrated solar energy system designed to operate in extreme climates. The system uses an array of lightweight and curved solar mirrors that concentrate the sun’s thermal energy onto a receiver. This concentrated sunlight is then used to directly heat pressurized water to produce steam or hot water that can be utilized for industrial purposes. The whole system is enclosed within a transparent structure to protect it from the elements.
“This system helps to reduce costs by up to 40 per cent and lower greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50 per cent,” says Radev.
While the company operates in the industry segment of solar heat for industrial processing and shipping, its technology can also be applied to district heating.
It is this application that has landed the company a finalist position in the Mayor’s Innovation Challenge. SolarSteam has pitched the idea of setting up a lightweight architectural “floating” rooftop installation on the newly constructed Platform Innovation Centre on 9th Avenue S.E. in downtown Calgary.
Floating rooftop installation
Radev says this system would enable Platform’s Innovation centre to become net-zero while providing additional renewable heat to many of Calgary’s municipal buildings, as well as all the new construction in the East Village.
The Mayor’s Innovation Challenge is a competition that invites local entrepreneurs to share their ideas for how the city can “advance innovative energy solutions to build a more resilient community.”
Radev says having the installation in the heart of the city, where it will be visible throughout most of the inner city and on many flight paths, will showcase Calgary as being more than just an oil and gas hub, but a leader in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance).
“Other than just the aspect of renewable heat, we want the city of Calgary to have a show piece of sustainability,” says Radev.
He says it has been quite rewarding for SolarSteam to be selected as a finalist, and his team had a lot of fun working on the project.
Radev says SolarSteam was selected as a finalist over companies with multi-million-dollar budgets and investments. SolarSteam is a young company that has 80-per-cent subscribed in its $500,000 pre-seed investment round.
He says the company is very lucky to have a strong executive team, employment team, and advisory board that has the full range of competency between research and development, regulatory and policy work, and the understanding of what it takes to take a technology to the commercial level.
Finalists move on
Finalists were announced in July of 2021. In September they will pitch to a panel of community and business leaders led by Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Winners of the pitch competition will get to further refine their ideas with an innovation champion from the City of Calgary.
Radev says the challenge was very appealing to him personally, as Calgary is the only city he has ever lived in since moving to Canada from Bulgaria 10 years ago.
“Calgary is my home; I’m a proud graduate of SAIT and U of C,” he says. “In fact, people joke with me when I travel that they think I’m paid by the City of Calgary because I speak to all the beautiful things our city has to offer, every time.”