04.03.2020 | Case | Nordic SME | Industry | USA
The Finnish company’s unique ultrasound industrial cleaning technology is making an impact in North America.
If you like your coffee, you know you need to periodically clean your coffee maker. Hard water deposits or coffee grounds might build up, making your morning cup not as appetizing as it should be. The same fouling process happens in many industrial processes, resulting in poor performance and products. Finland’s Altum Technologies developed a unique solution to tackle industrial fouling and approached NEFCO to expand to North America.
Fouling in industrial equipment such as pipes, tanks and heat exchangers is a massive problem. Industrial processes must use more energy to force materials through fouled pipes. One estimate is that industrial fouling causes over EUR 185 billion in losses and is responsible for 2.5 per cent of global CO2 emissions.
A sound cleaning
“The traditional methods to clean fouling are mechanical or chemical,” explains Matias Tainela, CEO of Altum. “The mechanical process is opening the pipe, cleaning it with water jets and reassembling it. The chemical process is closing the system and circulating chemicals.”
The problem with these methods is that the production process must be stopped for cleaning. Additionally, harsh chemicals may not be environmentally friendly and there is always the risk that some chemical residue might be left behind.
Altum’s solution uses software guided ultrasound delivered externally to clean fouling. The equipment doesn’t need to be disassembled and the production process doesn’t even need to be stopped. This saves Altum’s clients time and money while simultaneously being more environmentally friendly. The de-fouling process is cleaner and results in more efficient industrial processes which use less energy and cause fewer emissions.
The company won the prestigious startup pitching competition at Slush in 2017, placing first out of 2,500 companies. They have since provided their solution to a number of clients, primarily in the food and pulp and paper industries. The 30-person team at Altum wanted to expand to North America, so in 2018 they approached the Nordic Project Fund (Nopef) for a feasibility grant to explore the possibility of establishing a subsidiary in the USA. Nopef is managed by NEFCO and financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The traditional methods to clean fouling are mechanical or chemical,” explains Matias Tainela, CEO of Altum
Mind the gap
“The Nordic region offers many funding options for R&D, and once a company is established it is easier to use traditional funding methods,” says Dennis Hamro-Drotz, Investment Manager at NEFCO. “But there is a gap when the companies try to bring their novel solutions to global markets. NEFCO can help to fill this funding gap and help Nordic companies to grow in international markets.”
NEFCO can offer customised financing packages including grants, loans and/or equity.
“For example, a company might need a certain amount of money for their expansion,” Hamro-Drotz says. “Some of it might come as equity from their investors, while they also take out a senior loan from a bank. They still need more funds, so NEFCO steps in with a junior loan to make up the remainder. Our cooperation with Altum is a good example of how, after financing the feasibility phase, we can continue our support for further investments on new markets.”
He stresses that the Nordic market is not large, and our companies need to go abroad to grow. Many companies are “born global” today and even develop their solutions with the global market in mind.
“Additionally, we in the Nordic region are coming up with fantastic solutions to environmental and climate problems,” says Hamro-Drotz. “NEFCO has an important role in helping to get these solutions adopted worldwide to help tackle the climate crisis.”
“NEFCO has an important role in helping to get these solutions adopted worldwide to help tackle the climate crisis”, Investment Manager Dennis Hamro-Drotz points out.
Saving time, money and the environment
Backed by a Nopef grant, Altum studied the feasibility of taking their greener solutions to the North American market. The company realised that the North American market was eager for their solution: one month after establishing their subsidiary in Las Vegas they booked their first client, and more quickly followed.
“About 10 per cent of our sales is from North America at the moment, and we expect this to grow to be between a third and a half of group turnover this year,” Tainela continues. “We wouldn’t have gotten these clients if we didn’t have a local presence.”
Tainela points out that Altum’s solutions provide such obvious economic and environmental advantages that sales expanded rapidly and they expect to employ five people locally in 2020. Now American customers can increase the efficiency of their industrial processes, saving time and money while using less energy and lowering emissions.
“We are definitely satisfied with NEFCO,” says Tainela. “They are experts and we highly respect the way they work. In fact, we have just signed a loan agreement to implement a number of demonstration projects at pulp and paper plants in several new countries to continue our global growth”, concludes Tainela.
Text: David J. Cord and photos: Dennis Hamro-Drotz, NEFCO and Altum technologies Oy.
Footnote 4 March 2020:
NEFCO and Altum Technologies Oy signed a loan agreement of EUR 1 million to enable demonstration projects of Altum’s fouling solution at pulp and paper plants on various continents to support their international growth.