Efenco, an Estonia-based cleantech startup, recently secured €4.5 million in funding, comprising €1.3 million from a round led by EstBAN Syndicate’s Ivo Remmelg and €3.2 million in grants from the EU’s European Innovation Council and Estonia’s Archimedes Foundation. The company specializes in reducing carbon emissions in industrial heat applications through its cold-plasma-assisted combustion technology, validated by the University of Tartu and supported by the EU’s Horizon programme. The funds will primarily facilitate product engineering to integrate advanced materials, ensuring durability, functionality, and compliance. Additionally, Efenco plans to use the investment to accelerate the deployment of its technology across various industries, aiming to significantly reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in the EU.
With net-zero carbon emissions an urgent necessity, over 140,000 TWh of energy are still generated from fossil fuels worldwide. Despite rapid advances in renewables, that’s still nearly 80% of global energy production. The temperatures needed to make core industrial materials like steel and cement – essential for modern infrastructure – can only be achieved using fossil fuels. Steel manufacturing alone emits 1,800kg of CO2 per tonne and causes 7% of global CO2 emissions (1). The industries creating these materials are among the dirtiest on the planet.
The Efenco team has a passionate commitment to accelerating the transition to low carbon technologies. Its members have developed cold-plasma-assisted combustion technology that can be rolled-out rapidly in a business model that requires zero capital outlay. It is already improving the efficiency of conventional energy production in industrial boilers by 20%. Efenco believes its solution can eventually improve the combustion efficiency of natural gas by up to 40% and of hydrogen by up to 75%. Unlike all other plasma-assisted combustion technologies, in use in jet engines, for example, Efenco’s cold-plasma-assisted combustion technology does not require an external energy source. It uses waste heat generated by combustion to generate plasma and enhance reaction efficiency. The EU-patented technology was validated by scientists from the University of Tartu in 2016 and 2022 and has been financially supported by the EU’s Horizon programme.
Kristjan Tiik, Efenco CEO and co-founder, says: “There are some hard choices coming up if the world is going to make it to net zero. It may be a difficult message for environmentalists to hear, but fossil fuels are an important component of the energy transition. Without them we can’t make steel or concrete. And without those, we can’t build the infrastructure needed for renewable energies. Efenco’s tech provides the industrial furnace efficiency breakthrough we need to bridge that gap. We see it as an essential foundation for the clean energy future, moving gradually towards hydrogen-based solutions.”
Efenco’s technology is inserted into otherwise unmodified combustion boilers. Conversion takes a few hours and can be applied across any industry that requires high-output energy generation. Besides steel and cement, other major opportunities include electricity generation, pulp and paper manufacturing, and ceramics production. Smaller scale boilers, including domestic heat boilers, are also a target in due course.
The company calculates that its initial technology could be installed in the 30% of gas boilers being used in the EU for high temperature industrial process heat applications. Even at an 18% efficiency gain, this represents a potential 5% total reduction in the EU’s energy consumption and carbon emissions from natural gas combustion; a greater potential saving than from solar and wind combined, or nuclear.
Based in Tallinn, Estonia, Efenco was co-founded by Kristjan Tiik, Aleksandr Nagornoy, and Aleksander Vlassov. To date, it has raised €4.5 million, including EU-funded research grants and an equity commitment from the European Investment Bank.
Ivo Remmelg, President of EstBAN and angel investor, says: “It’s crucial to reduce CO2 emissions in the world as fast as we can. Efenco’s HERC technology is one of the only new technologies that allow for the immediate reduction of CO2 emissions. In the case of green energy, the immediate, albeit indirect, CO2 emissions actually increase. The corresponding infrastructure needs to be built, the positive effect of which will come later. HERC is a world first among such solutions that doesn’t create new pollution but instead reduces existing pollution rates at the virtually same energy output.”
Efenco already has six commercial partners lined up for scale-commercial pilot projects, including Adven, Thermory, and Bepco. The first of these is targeting 1,000 hours of continuous operation. To ensure rapid roll, Efenco’s business model eliminates the need for capital outlay by adopters, who reap the benefits of greater energy efficiencies from day one to meet their financial and ESG commitments. As a result, at least five other interested customers are waiting to deploy Efenco’s technology.
Efenco has secured an equity commitment of €8 million via the European Investment Bank by 2026.