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Fengtech solar thermal at the dawn of a new beginning
Laval's Fengtech designs and markets a system for producing large quantities of solar hot water for livestock, while waiting for businesses and communities. After years of timid development, the company sees the tide turn, driven by the oil crisis and global warming.
Being right too early does not pay. Liqun Feng could see it. This engineer, doctor in mechanics, graduate of the École Normale Supérieure, created Fengtech in 2010 in Laval, convinced of having developed a promising product. Inspired by an existing technology in China where he was born, and improving it, he designed a high-performance solar hot water production system, using evacuated glass tubes.
Then R & D director at the Mayenne fence manufacturer Dirickx after working for Alstom or Faurecia, Liqun Feng created his system which he integrated into metal fences in industrial parks. Hot water then saves up to 90% of fuel to supply air conditioning. A demonstrator was installed in 2012 at the Raoul-Vadepied high school in Evron. Liqun Feng then realizes that his product has real potential: "French SMEs have an average of 400 meters of fences, two meters high. When it works, the heating of a high school or a company becomes almost free. It's a revolution !" believes the creator. However, Liqun Feng is forced to put his project on hold. "There are zero customers. The need to convince takes time, and beyond that, you need financial and industrial capacity". He continues to improve the system, files patents (three), hoping for better days.
To bounce back, the inventor falls back on his product adapted for the agricultural world. "A farmer believed in my system. He installed it, without financial aid". One, then two, then three, are convinced by "proven effectiveness" and "rapid return on investment". Hot water is used to water calves or heat buildings (poultry, pigs) and horticultural greenhouses. "For livestock, our hybrid system can replace 50 to 60% of gas consumption over the year. The European Union's objective is to reduce CO emissions by 55% by 2030. We are doing it immediately".
The company now has around fifty installations in agriculture, and a network of around twenty installers in France (the components are produced by subcontractors, particularly Chinese). But the activity having been slow to take off, Fengtech still only has two employees, including its founder.
Supported by Laval Mayenne Technopole, Fengtech was initially financed with equity, but "it doesn't last long". Fundraising of €260,000 in 2016, made it possible to hire a salesperson. Although not known to the industrial world, the system appeals to scientists. The economic argument has convinced farmers, the ecological argument is now of interest to institutions. Since September 2019, Fengtech has been one of eight partners in the European Icare4Farms project, alongside the University of South Brittany and the British University of Lincoln. This project aims to increase renewable energy on farms in northwestern Europe, where sunshine is low, and therefore reduce CO emissions. "For us, it's institutional recognition", appreciates Liqun Feng. Icare4Farms plans to deploy a thousand agricultural installations in ten years, helping to create two hundred jobs. The French pilot site has been running since June 2021 in Nord-Sarthe. The European project will be presented at the next Space, the breeding fair in Rennes. Fengtech was also selected as the winner of the Innov’Space 2022. From September 13 to 15, 2022, more than 100,000 visitors, potential customers, are expected.
Crédit Mutuel enters the capital
Sign that the tide is turning, last February, the Crédit Mutuel Maine-Anjou Basse-Normandie entered the capital of the company, via its investment capital tool Volney Développement. Global warming on the one hand, the oil context on the other, give arguments to the Fengtech system: "Since the start of the war in Ukraine, we have had a lot of orders. We will see if this demand is punctual". Accustomed to remaining cautious, Liqun Feng does not communicate turnover, nor does he formulate hiring projects. But "our ambition is to impose our method in France and in other countries. We are the only ones to offer it... If it is recognized, and known, then the company will grow enormously".