One Year On: The Clean Futures Journey

On 15th June 2023, a group of key stakeholders met to discuss and decide upon the core challenges from across the automotive and rail industries that would be posed to first year applicants to the Clean Futures Accelerator programme. As they now deliberate on the second-year submissions, the team from BCIMO reflect on the journey so far.

The Clean Futures Accelerator, part of the Clean Futures Programme, champions green technology innovation within the transport sector. The programme is led by Connected Places Catapult, in partnership with BCIMO, Coventry University and CU Services. Over two years, and across two cohorts, 40 successful SMEs will receive six months of bespoke support, alongside funding to trial and demonstrate their solutions to those industry challenges.

In early November, the first cohort of SMEs embarked on their programme, including a series of commercial workshops and tailored support from the technical team where needed. BCIMO fully supported seven businesses on their innovations for the rail sector, with a further four – working technically with Coventry University on innovations for the automotive sector – receiving commercial support. The first year of the programme concluded with an exclusive Demonstration Day at the end of April, at which the innovations were presented to industry representatives and potential investors.

So… as they embark on life and success beyond Clean Futures, who are the Cohort 1 SMEs?

Adelan develops low carbon products for the clean energy market and offers unique fuel cell system sales and strategic partnership to customers looking to decarbonise their products and businesses. The company was founded in 1996 by father and daughter Professor Kevin Kendall FRS and Dr Michaela Kendall, who invented the core microtubular solid oxide fuel cell (mSOFC) technology in 1992.

Based in Birmingham, one of the UK’s leading fuel cell innovation centres at the heart of UK manufacturing, Adelan works globally with universities, governments and businesses, and locally with Birmingham City University, to commercialise UK hydrogen technologies.

Adelan joined the Clean Futures Accelerator to test and demonstrate the application of its solid oxide fuel cell technology to power the on-board auxiliary systems of a light rail vehicle, in this case BCIMO’s T69 Tram.

BoxTube is a start-up company created by Alan Holford in 2022. Based in Shropshire, the company is on a mission to create a low-carbon granular logistics network to enable the global supply chain to decarbonise, reduce material usage and reduce air pollution.

The solution is a system that utilises a standardised reusable box, together with an automated loading and securing mechanism, to enable the rapid loading and efficient transfer of granular freight between different transport modes.

BoxTube joined the Clean Futures Accelerator programme to test and demonstrate the application of its rapid vehicle loading system in a relevant rail freight environment, in this case on BCIMO’s T69 Tram.

ChangeMaker3D is a UK-based company that uses low-carbon 3D concrete printing technology to transform major infrastructure projects for utilities, highways and rail. Their mantra is to ‘design out carbon’ and ‘print in productivity’.

Based in Birmingham, the company was founded by husband and wife, Natalie and Luke Wadley, in 2017, inspired by the potential to use emerging technologies as a force for good.

ChangeMaker3D joined the Clean Futures Accelerator programme to secure a base in which to print, construct, test and demonstrate the first 3D concrete printed toilet pod in a rail environment, in this case BCIMO’s Rail Development & Test Site.

Advanced Hydrogen Technologies (AHT) is an engineering and technology company that harnesses the power of hydrogen to produce clean domestic energy and lower vehicle emissions. The company began life in 2008 when its founder and Chief Technical Officer, Den Karmal, worked in the motorsport industry. Seeing a need to reduce the carbon build up in petrol and diesel engines, he developed the company’s groundbreaking Hydrogen Generator. Ben Kattenhorn took over as CEO in 2021.

Harry Needle Railroad Company (HNRC) is a forward-thinking railway locomotive spot hire, engineering and refurbishing company who also offer passenger vehicle storage and engineering space.

AHT and HNRC joined the Clean Futures Accelerator programme to test and demonstrate the efficiency of AHT’s Hydrogen Generator on one of HNRC’s locomotives, utilising BCIMO’s Rail Development & Test Site.

PowerUp Off-Grid Services is a company specialising in zero-emission, portable power, driven by intelligent AI that can be utilised anywhere in the world, at any time. Born from a curiosity surrounding the commerciality of renewable energy, the company was founded in 2021 by a small but expert team comprising David Collinson, Stuart Wallis and Adam Wallis.

From individual rechargeable and swappable battery units to the PowerStation V2, PowerUp is on a mission to revolutionise the access of on-demand, sustainably generated power through its net-zero Energy-as-a-Service provision.

PowerUp joined the Clean Futures Accelerator programme to test and demonstrate the application of its PowerStation V2 unit to power tools, lighting and EV charging in a relevant rail infrastructure environment, in this case BCIMO’s Rail Development & Test Site.

Universal Signalling is a disruptive start-up, new to the Railway Industry. The company is developing the next generation of digital signalling; a Universal Interlocking system made of low-cost COTS components, which form modular, extensible and pre-assured building blocks containing all the rules of the route.

Led by CEO Dr Sam Bemment, together with Stephen Head and co-founder Dr Nick Wright, the company was founded in 2022 but with technology under development since 2018.

Universal Signalling joined the Clean Futures Accelerator programme to test and demonstrate its signalling system in a relevant rail track environment, in this case BCIMO’s Rail Development and Test Site.

Varamis Rail is developing a network of zero emission, rapid rail logistics services for the movement of goods across the UK & Europe, providing a viable alternative to traditional road and diesel-powered freight transportation.

The company uses 100mph zero emission electric trains to transport freight overnight, utilising urban rail stations to transport large amounts of volume quickly and efficiently between logistics centres and heavily populated cities as a complete end to end solution. Founded in 2019 by Phil Read, the company’s first route between Birmingham and Scotland is already in operation.

Varamis Rail joined the Clean Futures Accelerator programme to test and demonstrate the use of a pre-programmed automated system to reduce loading and transfer times in a relevant rail freight environment, in this case on BCIMO’s T69 Tram.

The Coventry SMEs supported commercially by BCIMO were AceOn, who demonstrated its portable energy system for second-life EV batteries; Coexlion, who demonstrated its e-motorcycle within the last mile ecosystem; Composite Braiding, who demonstrated components manufactured from braided thermoplastic composite; and Hixal, who demonstrated its off-grid hydrogen powered unit, known as a Hixapod.

With applications in for Cohort 2, deliberations are now well underway, with interviews taking place imminently, and BCIMO look forward to introducing the new SMEs soon; so watch this space…!

Matt Wood, Programme Manager for Clean Futures at BCIMO, said:

“The Clean Futures Accelerator, beginning with Cohort 1, was an excellent way for SME businesses to gain access to facilities and training that would not normally be available to them, and for free. Taking their innovations from prototype towards route-to-market readiness, via a Demonstration Day, which introduced them to potential investors and industry contacts; and also workshops offering commercial and technical support which gives them more weapons in their knowledge armoury.

“With £50k invested in their business to make this happen, this is an opportunity not to be missed. In view of the success of Cohort 1, we’re really looking forward to Cohort 2 going live and working towards Demonstration Day 2.”

For more information on BCIMO and the VLRNIC, including the Clean Futures Programme, please visit the BCIMO website or Contact Us to make an enquiry.

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