Absolicon – From Solar to District Heating

"Do not start environmental technology on a small scale, but prove the technology and then bring in capital for mass production directly," firmly believes Joakim Byström. He is the founder and CEO of Absolicon in Härnösand, which has patented robotic production lines that make the world's most efficient solar collectors.

With the first production line delivered to China and framework agreements for the sale of lines in eighteen countries, Swedish Absolicon is facing a significant expansion. Something that the inventor, CEO, and founder Joakim Byström believes is key if we are to tackle the climate crisis:

– The technology we need to manage the transition already exists. But it needs to be scaled up quickly. Many talk about electricity, but the energy supply is actually mostly about heat. For example, every other home in Sweden has district heating. Of the "Russian gas" that is much talked about, only 10% is used for electricity and 90% for heat.

Bild på Joakim Nyström
Joakim Byström

The company’s solar collectors provide district heating networks with solar heat and can drive industrial processes at temperatures up to 200°C. Absolicon’s solar collectors track the sun throughout the day and have a record-high optical efficiency, converting over 76% of sunlight into heat. The solar collectors are constructed in fields outside cities or next to the industries where they will be used.

The heat can be stored from summer to winter in so-called pit storages, a large excavated pit internally covered with tarpaulin filled with hot water and topped with a polystyrene lid. Around 160 Danish cities already use this solution as part of their district heating network.

Started with Trade Secrets

Absolicon was founded in 2002 by Joakim Byström after he was disappointed by the global climate talks. He and some others wondered what they could do locally in Härnösand. His studies in technical physics had long been derailed in Uppsala in favour of other exciting projects, something he blames on his family where several are entrepreneurs.

– Initially, the development of solar collector prototypes was aided by research conducted by students as part of their studies. At that time, we did not focus on patents: both for cost-saving reasons and because much of the technology we developed could not be reverse-engineered. So, we relied on trade secrets instead.

Employed a Patent Engineer

A few years ago, they changed strategy, fully committed to registering their intellectual assets and hired a patent engineer who worked 80% for Absolicon on IP issues.

– We took the step onto the Spotlight stock exchange and wanted to reassure shareholders that we had IP assets. It also became important for our partners worldwide. Today, IP assets are an important part of the business.

Absolicon has over 90 sought or granted patents in 13 patent families. Regarding the registration of intellectual assets, they have the full spectrum from design protections, trademarks, and patents, to something in between a patent and a design protection available in China called utility models.

Scale Up Directly

The robotic production line for the mass production of solar collectors is manufactured in partnership with ABB. Joakim Byström is opposed to the notion prevalent in Sweden that you should always start on a small scale and work your way up by selling a few products, to get money to be able to sell more. Selling your way to success is a trap in some industries, he believes.

– In environmental and energy technology, it's about not selling expensive products in small volumes, but rather investing your energy in proving your technology with a few pilot customers, certifications, and independent tests. With this proof, you can then gather capital and invest in mass production at a volume that makes your price competitive.

How does he see the link between innovation and sustainability?

– We can do much better in Sweden at helping innovators prove, or disprove their technical idea. I have been calling for this for many years and now the Swedish Energy Agency has finally introduced support for pilot and demo facilities, says Joakim Byström.

The interview was made in 2022.
Photo: Johan Westberg, Tarek Suleiman