Startup to melt icicles and heat oil depots

Vitex developed a flexible heating element that prevents icicles from accumulating on building roofs, heats sidewalks, greenhouses as well as pipelines and reservoirs for oil companies. Transneft and several other companies already expressed their interest in cooperating with Vitex, the company director Stanislav Loboda told Invest Foresight.

The heating element (film) consists of polymer materials, one of which serves as a conductor thanks to carbon. Polymers are responsible for the device’s flexibility and self-regulation while carbon is the best material for electric heating with a 99% efficiency factor for heat generation. This type of heater can operate at temperatures ranging from -50 to 100˚C. One of possible applications is to heat an oil pipe to 60˚C required for proper transfer of bitumen. There are clients who need bitumen and mazut at over 90˚C but Vitex had to decline their orders because the device may melt.

The heating film can be controlled automatically based on thermometer readings which allows saving electric energy. For example, on a rooftop an electric heater will turn off as it goes over 5˚C. The heating film may be switched off locally to provide heat only to the areas where it is really necessary. For example, a horizontal reservoir with oil products only needs to be heated up on the bottom. The film can also be bent – for example, on steps. A single piece of film can cover all the steps and can be bent four times between every two steps.

Electric resistance heaters are currently common in the external and industrial heating market. Designed as a cable or as panels, their downside is that they provide uncontrollable heating without temperature restrictions and have a low efficiency factor. The major producer of heating cables is Raychem (US). Vitex is currently patenting its invention, including in Scandinavia, Great Britain and other countries. In 2017, Vitex heating film was included in Moscow’s registry of innovative products.

“The idea itself came to us five years ago. Initially, we simply wanted to prevent roofs from accumulating icicles. Existing solutions were not efficient enough,” says Stanislav Loboda.

So far the company’s best-selling product has been the anti-icing system for preventing the formation of icicles on building roofs. In November 2018, a heating element was installed on a building roof in St. Petersburg on the slope 200 m in length after a snowfall and amid freezing temperatures. The roof heating is switched on at temperatures between -5°C and 5°C to fully remove snow and meltwater and prevent icicle formation. Switching on the heating element at lower temperatures is of no use as it cannot melt all the snow and there is a risk of new icicles forming. The aim is not to melt the snow but to facilitate natural melting process. The power consumption for the building is about 5MW during a season, or 40W-80W per linear meter. This is less expensive than removing icicles manually, with a linear meter of heating film costing at least RUR 800 ($12.6). The company is providing service to dozens of Moscow office buildings. So far, there is no competitive product similar to the flexible heating element produced by Vitex.

Vitex founders have invested RUR 9 mio ($ 142,140) in the company. The project  payback period is about 2-2.5 years under the cautiously optimistic scenario. The end of last year saw the start of sales, with the company earning RUR 1 mio. This year, Vitex expects to earn at least RUR 10 mio.

The company does not intend to limit its sales solely to the housing and utility sector; large customers operating in the oil and gas sector are equally promising. Transneft Research Institute specialists are interested in seeing how the film will work on vertical oil storage tanks. The problem is that oil freezes in winter and it cannot be pumped out and delivered to customers. In addition, a lot of snow accumulates on the tank, which creates too much pressure on the container. Existing defrosters are not a solution to the problem, while the electrical heating system can solve it: for instance, at the freezing temperatures of Yakutia the film will heat the tank to 5°C-10°C. The institute plans to launch this pilot project in 2020, Invest Foresight learned from an institute representative at the Startup Village conference. Vitex founders hope that a deal with Transneft will allow the company to gain new customers in the oil and gas industry.

Another large oil and gas company needs the electrical heating system for pipeline transportation of viscous oil. It is difficult to maintain fluidity of bitumen oil and mazut in the pipeline at the temperature of -40°C and deliver them to customers. Today, the solution to this problem is heating by steam, which is pumped into adjacent pipeline heat registers.

By Natalia Kuznetsova

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