Plactherm: the revolution arrives to heating systems

May 27, 2016

Product engineer and carbon fibre specialist Lluc Marti didn’t give a second thought to leaving behind the prestigious world of supercars (he was once composite manager at Koenigsegg) for a venture of his own.

After being involved in several start-ups, he founded PlacTherm in Madrid in 2015 to develop a simple idea: modular underfloor heating that can be adjusted to suit each occupant. Interview.

Why are you so keen to revolutionise heating? There are already a lot of good products and companies in the sector…

Yes, there are certainly some very energy-efficient radiators on the market. But their positioning is often determined by external factors such as the architecture or occupant traffic flows. In reality, no matter how energy-efficient they are, too many of the heaters in office buildings heat areas that are unoccupied. Moreover, Building Management Systems are not designed for occupants but for facility managers. All the users can do is fight it out for the right to adjust the temperature for an entire floor!

How does PlacTherm address these issues?

We have designed and developed a connected, electric heating tile (60 x 60 cm) that has numerous advantages. First, it provides gentle, underfloor heating, which is generally acknowledged to be the most comfortable form. Second, each tile is independent, so the power (around 100 watts per square metre) can be adjusted, depending on building occupancy and especially the users’ wishes at any particular time. Lastly, there’s no need for proprietary control units: all it takes is a smartphone to adjust the temperature in your zone! At the end of the day, we estimate the potential energy savings at around 30%, with more comfortable conditions for building occupants.

What exactly is innovative about your system?

Two things. First, the hardware. The tile is made up an efficient heating element, insulation and lots of electronics: temperature and presence (i.e. pressure) sensors, and a communication and identification architecture for each tile. Not to mention a considerable amount of design work to make it quick and easy to install… and all with low-cost components and materials so that it has a chance of penetrating the market! Next, the software aspect was particularly important for us, because it has to combine features intended for different stakeholders: easy initial installation for building professionals, user-friendly control interfaces for occupants, efficient reporting functions for facility managers and, in the future, data that can be mined by big data tools.

So is big data part of your business model?

In time, probably, because we will have valuable information about user and building behaviours that can, for example, be fed into machine learning algorithms. These algorithms can then be used to more accurately anticipate occupants’ comfort requirements, more effectively factor in the weather or predict the energy costs of a given property stock… In the meantime, our model will remain quite conventional: we will sell the tiles directly and through distributors, and the advanced software functions as subscription-based SaaS.

What stage of development are you at today?

We already run our own functional show-room with 25 m2 of PlacTherm tiles. Our next pilot site will be installed in autumn 2016: 80 m2 of office space at Ferrovial (editor’s note: one of the world’s leading infrastructure operators and municipal services companies, including motorways, airports, etc.).  Three other pilot schemes have already been signed up, including one at Endesa, Spain’s number one electricity company. These demonstrators will help us fine-tune our tile, its implementation and the software with a view to a commercial launch slated for early 2017.

How are you financing PlacTherm?

Initially with the partners’ private funds and various grants, loans and financial support schemes (INCENSe accelerator, the Repsol Foundation’s Entrepreneurs Fund incubator, etc.). And, of course, with seed funding from KIC InnoEnergy, which, incidentally, brings us so much more than money: in particular friendly advice about our strategy, valuable contacts with experts and lean methods. Between now and the end of 2016, we will launch a funding round to raise about €300,000 to finance the commercial roll-out.

PlacTherm in brief:

Founded: 2015

Based in: Madrid, Spain

Staff: 9

Tile: 60 x 60 cm, 80-120 W/m2

Energy savings: 30%

Potential market (Europe): over 4.000 M€