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Heat and humus from wood waste: BioLogik System is ready to take off
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2020-09-25 2020-09-25 25 September 2020 - Gabriele Crepaz
9 min read
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In incubation since 2019 at NOI Techpark, the start-up is growing, among interested investors a pilot project is underway. How much weight do you feel on your shoulders and why are a cheetah, an e-bike and a lectern involved? For this (and more) we interviewed the founder Tobias Diana.  

The day after tomorrow is an important day for Tobias Diana. Hopefully, he is going to be full time employed. What he really wants to express is that after a long time chances are high to receive a monthly income again. Start-uppers probably do not care. Those who live for their ideas try to profit from every situation and in every possible way: time, equipment, money, until a potential investor shows up. Or, as occurred to Tobias, until becoming part of NOI Techpark, in the start-up incubator, where he and his company BioLogik System are getting ready for the market.

He calls his office a "pigsty" because it is all topsy-turvy. But as we enter, three objects catch our eye and puzzled us: the large laminated photo of a cheetah with prey in its mouth, an electric mountain bike and a music stand on which an «adventureX» sign is placed. During the conversation it becomes clear, that all these aspects form an integral part when founding a start-up.

And so, the residual wood becomes humus and heat

Tobias is young, 27, and his idea seems so simple that one wonders why no one has thought of it before. He developed a technology that composes wood residues and transforms them into heat energy and humus. “The newness about it? The system is completely efficient and does not involve additional costs for the farmers”, explains Tobias.

This is how it works: the main element is an innovative heat exchanger that absorbs the sensitive and latent heat of the composting process in a bioreactor, collects it in a thermal accumulator and makes it available independently of the composting process. The bioreactor is emptied once a year. To do this, a small crane lifts the heat exchanger, the container is loaded with freshly cut lumber and is then lowered so that the process starts over. With conventional systems, this process takes ten days and requires ten people. "We offer a complete turnkey solution”, says Tobias, “now it takes two people and one day to achieve the exact same result".

A mountain of energy

Tobias has tried everything. In the past, he helped on his grandmother's farm in Appiano and was hired by other farmers for some time now. “What are you doing with the waste?” he asked continuously. The farmers looked clueless, shrugged their shoulders or dissmissed. The waste is a real pain.

“This is not possible,” he repeated to himself.  His grandmother had always taught him not to waste anything.  And as an energy engineer, he felt that so much potential natural heat should not be allowed to go to waste.  As a child he investigated what energy could do and how to obtain it. Once, by plugging a magnet into a socket, he cut the power off in the street he lived in.  And when he drew, he drew energy: "With bright colours and lots of scribbles". 

He only had to face off the cheetah.

Tobias volunteered for a university project in Mombasa, Kenya. At the time, he was studying energy and environmental engineering at the Burgenland University of Applied Sciences in Pinkafeld. An NGO in Kenya was looking for students to work on development projects. Tobias was attracted by the food market in the port city on the Indian Ocean. Every day, 20,000 people go there to stock up on food. Every evening, the scraps of sugar cane, pineapple and papaya form a mountain weighing 92 tons. Tobias studied the sustainable waste management process for six months and gradually came to understand biological processes. "But producing heat with an outside temperature of 40 degrees is obviously not very interesting", he told us. At the time, a picture was taken in the Masai Mara nature reserve. The cheetah had just caught prey. For Tobias Diana this was a sign: “The cheetah is 98% efficient. When it shoots, almost no animal has a chance to survive”. Now this picture hangs in the BioLogik System office as if it were a trophy. Tobias calls it "our inspiration for efficiency".

Resist until a virus infects your computer

When he returns to Europe, Tobias is ready.  He understood how agriculture works, he is dedicated to energy efficiency, and now he also knows how bacteria work in the composting process: "I had this idea and I knew it was time to try."

It is late autumn 2015. Tobias tries to make his first attempts in his parents' garden.  He occupies the garage for a year.  He sleeps with the soldering iron beside the bed.  He believes he already knows everything and has yet to learn that "it takes time to understand the details". During the day he studies and at night he dedicates time to the patent. "I was paranoid, I was afraid that someone would steal my idea".  Over time the tests become more targeted.  A farmer supplies him with the remains of wood, an installer builds the first heat exchanger, an IT expert calculates the digital control. Tobias quits his full-time job and keeps himself afloat by working here and there as a waiter, during summer he works in the vineyards and orchards. Somehow he makes it.  But then a virus puts his computer out of use, and with it a year's work is gone. "It is all part of the game," he says reminiscing and smiles. But he also adds that it is tiring. Psychologically exhausting.

The three success factors of the start-up incubator

Tobias decides and applies with BioLogik System for the pre-incubation program at NOI Techpark, and soon his situation improves. Jokingly, he says: "Today, I am not the only crazy person who works tirelessly in the bedroom, here everyone is crazy". Within six months, his idea becomes a business model with financing prospects. In May 2019 BioLogik System was incorporated into the start-up incubator for a duration of three years. And are now a team of three. A start-up meeting all the criteria: “We examine if the team is competent and does not just dedicate themselves to the start-up in their free time. We make sure that their business ides is innovative and scalable with potential for the market to ensure that the company grows,” explains Petra Gratl, head of the start-up incubator at NOI Techpark.

Currently, 29 start-ups are mentored at NOI Techpark. Every two months Gratl and her team meet the founders and check progress of the projects of the jointly developed accelerator programme. Tobias feels he is being looked after in the best possible way. "Without NOI Techpark we would certainly be slower and down in the dumps," he explains. He is far too modest.

Stefano Dal Savio, head of the unit Green Technologies at NOI Techpark, certifies the company’s high potential for success. “We believe in this company. We have already presented the project to local experts and operators. And we have negotiated a pilot project,” he says. The potential has a number: 13 million tons of wood waste are produced every year. This pile must be removed.

From the idea to the patent: why BioLogik System is worth as much as a flat

At NOI Techpark the project is underway. The European Patent Office has already given the green light. Financial support has begun to pay off. In Leipzig, the Deutsche Biomasse Forschungszentrum (German Biomass Research Centre) bought two heat exchangers and wants to provide the measurement results. The first investors are starting to show interest. In the coming weeks, the pilot project mentioned by Dal Savio, is going to start at Laimburg, the South Tyrolean experimental centre for fruit growing and viticulture. A farm provides material and land in order to test the new technology, and a timber company sees in the technology of BioLogik System, a method using wood bark to produce heat. In addition to this, Diana says, a further request, which is about processing horse manure, got in.

In fact, he may already be singing victory, and he does. But…

His car battery still leaves him stranded, so he must ride his e-bike ten kilometres to get to work. And the office chairs came from goodness knows where. For the moment BioLogik System does not generate any income. Indeed, Tobias has yet to take development costs into account. “Probably with the money I have invested so far I could have bought myself an apartment,” notes Tobias.

From investors to architects: when Tobias plays the violin

At the same time, he knows he cannot give up. He must go on. Tomorrow he is going to meet an architect to improve his bioreactor, and have a better design, which does not stink and is not noisy. Just like farmers, hoteliers, food producers and farm owners would like. The day after tomorrow he finds out what the potential investor’s plans for BioLogik System could be. If things go wrong, he will go home in the evening and play the violin for his six-month-old son. “That way I can relax best,” he says. And points to the music stand.

MODEL

BioLogik System is developing a complete package that allows the customer to derive the maximum possible benefit from cutting and wood residues from agriculture without incurring additional costs.

In the Start-up Incubator, spin-offs and start-ups already underway find the ideal ecosystem for their first years of business life.  A customised acceleration plan is drawn up for each start-up, based on milestones distributed over three years and with specific support measures and services linked to the various milestones.

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