PlasmaBound: Deep-tech spin-out making light work of vehicles

24 Jan 2022

Alan Barry, CEO and co-founder, PlasmaBound. Image: PlasmaBound

University College Dublin spin-out PlasmaBound has technology that helps composite materials lose weight, with positive results for sustainability and carbon emissions.

“Our start-up is about getting more renewable lightweight materials into use faster as we seek a more sustainable carbon-reduced future,” said PlasmaBound CEO Alan Barry.

This University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out is based on technology invented by Dr Nick Barry, which has been seven years in development. PlasmaBound commercialises this patent-pending technology, called controlled polymer ablation (CPA), as an automated and speedy method of manufacturing composite materials with the advantages of higher volume and increased reliability.

Future Human

As a joining solution, Alan said CPA can bring plastic composite manufacturing “back to the multi-component assembly, high-volume manufacturing techniques previously employed with metals”. Importantly, CPA is also compatible with recyclable composites, giving PlasmaBound a competitive edge.

‘Our efforts will make a measurable difference to global carbon footprint reduction’
– ALAN BARRY

Micheál Martin peers closely at a large white robotic arm as Nick Barry explains the technology to him.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, gets a PlasmaBound tech demo from Dr Nick Barry at a visit to NovaUCD. (Image: Nick Bradshaw/Fotonic)

As the name suggests, PlasmaBound’s technology is based on plasma, a state of matter with a significant portion of charged particles. In the simplest terms, plasma bonding increases the ‘stickiness’ of a surface by upping its force of attraction on a molecular level.

In the case of CPA, a surface made of fibre-reinforced plastic is stripped of “a controlled depth of polymer”, revealing both an undamaged “pristine polymer” and reinforcing fibres. This, Alan explained, is “an ideal tactile surface for adhesive bonding”.

CPA supports the bonding of “dissimilar materials”, enabling the adoption of ultra-lightweight composites in a cost-effective way.

Helping shave off the weight of durable materials is important in making wearables comfortable and transport vehicles more energy efficient. In the case of the latter, this has further implications for both carbon emissions reduction and sustainability goals.

“We believe that by making lightweight products more accessible to all budgets, our efforts will make a measurable difference to global carbon footprint reduction – particularly in transport electrification,” said Alan.

“Our target reduction of 300kg over current best practices for executive vehicles would reduce fuel consumption by over one litre per 100km.”

Furthermore, CPA can support the use of recyclable composites in transport, consumer electronics and construction manufacturing, “without the typical trade-off in quality strength or cost”, according to Alan.

“Unlike our competitors, our technology can be delivered robotically, has peerless reliability stats for bond quality, and crucially is agnostic to whether the composite is recyclable or non-recyclable – a big and growing issue,” he said, summarising CPA’s advantages.

PlasmaBound is targeting its tech at high-growth multibillion-dollar markets including the aerospace, consumer electronics sectors and automotive sectors, particularly electric vehicles (EVs).

“Despite the impediments with current technologies, the EV market for composites is expanding at 67pc CAGR to $54bn by 2024,” he said. “CPA will reduce costs in this area and facilitate similar growth in other industries.”

‘If available capital was anywhere as accessible as other development supports, Ireland’s start-up community would be significantly larger’
– ALAN BARRY

PlasmaBound is already bringing in revenue, having sold its first full-stack equipment package last year. It expects recurring revenue from licensing the technology to kick in this year. This will start in the US and EU with plans to expand to Japan and other markets in 2023.

“We’ve assembled an excellent team at our facility in NovaUCD, Dublin, and are well positioned to convert our exciting pipeline which includes over 290 active confirmed leads, of which 60 are in trials,” said Alan.

That team includes Alan as CEO, coming from an extensive background in life sciences. Alan’s experience in running capital projects for highly regulated pharma and medtech companies led him to found his own consultancy in 2006.

“My strengths for PlasmaBound lie in my previous start-up experiences, and my ability to manage complex and remote teams – often involving third-party vendors – in tandem with end users whose desire to reduce costs is tempered by an overarching concern to avoid disruption of adjacent processes or overall compliance,” he said.

Inventor Nick serves as CTO of PlasmaBound, leading the growing technical team in trialling and rolling out projects for clients. Completing the founding trio is Xavier Montibert as commercial director. Xavier joined the start-up in 2019, bringing with him more than two decades’ experience in leadership spanning start-ups and multinationals.

Xavier also brought a financing boost, having participated in PlasmaBound’s seed round. The company is now in the process of closing its second funding round on top of the €1.4m it has raised to date. Its backers include the Atlantic Bridge University Fund, Enterprise Ireland and a number of private investors.

“The current round will support the next 24 months of our business plan and set us up to secure our Series A within the next 18 months,” said Alan.

Alan added that the supports available to start-ups in Ireland are “unlike anything I’ve seen or heard of outside Silicon Valley”.

“Additionally, Irish people tend to be less risk averse than other locations, which means less difficulty attracting the right people to what might otherwise be considered a risky, short-term role,” he added.

However, when it comes to the challenges facing Irish entrepreneurs, he juxtaposed these positives with “a general lack of investment capital relative to other jurisdictions”.

“While the supports to become a successful start-up are unparalleled, it can be inequitably difficult to get the funding required to execute,” he said. “If available capital was anywhere as accessible as other development supports and talented personnel, Ireland’s start-up community would be significantly larger.”

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com