Concentrated Solar Thermal (CTS) energy: interesting for your business? Azteq is the first company to build innovative industrial heat platforms made from recyclable materials, using the ancient technology of parabolic reflectors, for western European industries and cities. Azteq's heat platforms can substantially reduce a company's ecological footprint while sustaining delivery of high-quality heat day and night. In this way, they contribute to the seventh, ninth, and eleventh SDG, which are "affordable and clean energy," "industry, innovation and infrastructure," and "Sustainable Cities and Communities."
Although human heat consumption accounts for two-thirds of total CO2 emissions, sustainable heat is still challenging. Azteq wanted to make the heat sustainably more accessible. In several ways, they set themselves apart from previous developments in the field of sustainable heat.
Until now, it has often been impossible for industrial applications to switch entirely to sustainable heat. Technologies such as geothermal or solar flat plate boilers with a temperature up to 120 °C are unable to provide the necessary heat for a large part of industrial processes. Azteq installations can generate heat up to 400 degrees Celsius by optimizing the technique in which sunlight concentrates. This heat is enough to support most manufacturing operations without jeopardizing sustainability. Azteq solar mirrors are also the only sustainable source of high-quality heat that is completely CO2-neutral from installation onwards. A final notable feature of Azteq heat platforms is that the environmental impact of the solar reflectors is nearly non-existent. Thanks to the vacuum technology, the collector tube exterior remains cold enough to touch. The installations are entirely odorless, noiseless, and move extremely slowly. The mirrors can be directed vertically in rainy weather so that all the ground receives the rain.
The creation process with Azteq's heat platforms consists of five components. The first component is mirror technology. The solar mirrors capture and concentrate sunbeams to a central point. The mirrors move with the sun for maximum use of the sunlight at any time of the day. Secondly, there is a collector which transfers the heat. The magic happens in the third component. The heat exchanger transfers the heat to a medium used in the customers' production process. It ensures that the heat captured can be used in industrial applications. The penultimate component of the innovation is thermal energy storage. This component is a storage device for the heat that is not immediately used and allows using heat 24/7, even when the sun is not shining. The last component of the industrial heat platform is the alternative heat source. In addition to solar heat, the industrial heat system will also use another alternative source to cover cloudy days.
The CEO of Azteq, Koen Vermout, has worked for other companies and gained a lot of international experience in China and Egypt. When he returned from abroad, he felt that its time to do something different. When asked about his view on sustainability, he said that the business opportunity is clear because there is still a lot to do in the industry. Still, it is primarily a moral duty or obligation to care for the planet and the environment.
His inspiration to come up with his sustainable innovation consists of three points. He mentioned the first point: “We founded the company with three people, all Belgians from an established age, more than 50 years old. That is the age where this kind of thinking starts. You say, look, I have done what I had to do, and I liked it very much, but now it is time to do something different.” So he found some peers who all had a great experience and saw the world. And then they stumbled upon this idea and thought: “Yes, that could be something good.” The second thing he mentioned was: “One of the two other founders already has 40 years of experience in the concentrated solar industry. He has a factory with his brother where he makes different components, and that, of course, gives us a big advantage.” The third and last thing he said was: “I also have two daughters, so I have to think about their future too.”
Koen wants to leave behind a better planet and a better life for his children and grandchildren. His daughters are a great motivation for him as he wants to do something about the environmental problems. That shows that Koen is very conscious about making a difference in the world. This consciousness is necessary for the future of his business and innovation; he has a permanent drive to keep innovating. This innovation reflects on his leadership style. He considers his colleagues as equals and friends, all with the same mindset. In this way, they can work as one entity and do great things together.
In the four years that Azteq has existed, not much happened. As the CEO said: “Over the last four years, we can feel an acceleration already, but we are just at the beginning.” They are a small company and one of the few in their industry, so their measurable impact is practically invisible until now.
Nevertheless, they have made some changes with their innovation. The CEO mentioned in the interview that one of the things they did was change policies on green heat: “Until four years ago there were no subsidies in Flanders for large-scale solar heat; it didn't even exist. But we have asked for it, and they changed the law. We are doing the same in Germany; we also talked to the authorities over there, and they will now provide subsidies for green heat. So the process and subsequently the impact is slow. But I think it is significant, which will be measured later." The moral of the story here is that Azteq wanted to change specific policies on green heat, so it is easier and more attractive to step into this kind of market. On top of that, the impact on society is also substantial. This topic is addressed in more detail later in the story.
So Azteq aims for a snowball effect and hopes to inspire others: “Of course, if we can take an example of 1% market share in Western Europe, we are still talking about a multi-billion dollar business.
In our type of business, a company can't be monopolistic. There will always be many competitors.”
Azteq wants to be part of the businesses that improve the world with their innovation, but this does not mean that they cannot produce profits. As the owner himself states: "I don't deny making a profit, but to make a profit in a good sense." The owner does not deny that he wants to profit, but he also clarifies that this should not be the company's sole purpose. The company wants to be a frontrunner in creating sustainable industrial heat. Therefore, they focus on creating the installations that generate heat sustainably for industrial applications and making a profit by selling these installations to do their part in creating a more sustainable world.
As said before, in Western Europe, Azetq is one of the only companies active in this industry. There is still very little investment in producing sustainable industrial heat in the rest of the world, despite its importance. Still, gas prices are too low to manufacture sustainable heat industrial applications. There is, therefore, hardly any demand for installations that generate industrial heat sustainably. In other words, Azteq finds itself in a niche market. As a result, the Azteq profit is still small and insignificant if we compare it with the suppliers of the already existing, polluting installations. But, this is changing.
Azteq benefited from the change of the policy regarding sustainable heat. Because they are a small company, they need this subsidy to make investments and develop innovations regarding industrial heat. As mentioned earlier, sustainable energy is more expensive than fossil fuels, so the company needs government subsidies to make their energy more affordable. The company benefits from the rising prices of energy and fossil fuels. Koen said: “We can not do this without government support.” Fortunately, they got Government support to develop their innovation further and reach more companies. In this way, together with government support, they can lower CO2 emissions.
The innovation Azteq is proposing benefits the environment and the society, improving human well-being. But how does it do this?
It reduces CO2 emissions using 100% recyclable sources, solar rays, and recyclable components and installations, offering a full-cycle example of circular economy at a business scale. So this approach to produce sustainable heat helps face the global limitedness of resources issue. It makes the shift to green solutions appealing business-wise, paramount for the final impact.
Azteq’s approach benefits the environment and human well-being in their production circle. As the CEO told us in the interview, they are committed to offering an example for a Western management style to oppose the Chinese style. Chinese factories are focused on employees’ terrible working conditions and the highest pollution rates, causing industrial waste. Also influential is that Azteq’s solar fields, owned by the community, contribute moneywise to the local community. It is crucial, in this situation, not only companies’ participation but also citizens’. The CEO also focuses on the employees, even if in their particular case there are no employees but rather partners, independent consultants, in terms of being responsible toward workers, giving good contracts, standard working conditions, and imposing specific rules.
“A company is powerful and can do many things just by attitude,” said Koen Vermout.”
This saying is the example of a first-mover company whose strategy and goals uses as guidelines for all the companies that want to achieve SDG by 2030. It is not just about the innovation they propose, but the inner, invisible part of a company. The leader works with the employees and builds strong and equitable relationships to have a flourishing and sustainable enterprise.
Koen Vermout, CEO
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Genk, Limburg, BE
Business Website: https://azteq.be/
Year Founded: 2017
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Azteq is a start-up located in Belgium. They develop and install parabolic mirrors which concentrate solar radiation to create heat for industrial applications and district heating solutions. With this innovation, they want to reduce CO2 emissions.