When Alex Post decided to study Mechanical Engineering and Physics at the University of Newcastle (after several degree changes!), he never considered research as a career option. But after completing an industrial traineeship at the CSIRO, Alex realised that solar thermal energy and power cycle research was where he wanted to be.
Now in his final year of his PhD, Alex is taking part in the CSIRO-powered ON Prime program with a team of fellow engineers and materials scientists. The pre-accelerator program is aimed at turning technologies developed through research into start-ups (Alex also calls it “a pleasant diversion” from his thesis).
Their team, MGA Thermal Storage, provides energy storage solutions to large-scale energy providers through solar thermal energy storage (a renewable way of storing energy in the form of heat). Existing technologies use tanks of molten salts, which are unstable and corrosive. Alex’s team has developed a solid metal storage system, which is completely safe, long-lasting and inexpensive.
ON Prime is essentially a crash course in how to commercialize research, and Alex and his team are learning a lot. Before they started, Alex jokes about having “zero business sense – we had no idea how to talk to investors!” The program has taught him how to explain and market their technology to non-experts.
Alex’s team has tested a pilot-scale prototype and they’re in talks with potential investors to carry out large-scale testing. The most challenging part so far has been obtaining that first bit of interest, especially as their start-up is one pricey piece of large-scale technology.
The most rewarding aspect for Alex has been seeing that energy companies are interested in their start-up. After submitting his thesis, Alex is enthusiastic about continuing his research and becoming a lecturer, but he is also keen to see where the startup journey takes him. Alex advises students who are yet to make up their minds about their study pathway: “The biggest step is getting in the door. Don’t be afraid to chop and change mid-degree”.
– Larissa Fedunik
Alex’s path to solar thermal research and start-ups:
>> Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical)/Science (Physics), University of Newcastle
>> Industrial Traineeship, CSIRO
>> Ph.D. (Mechanical Engineering), University of Newcastle
>> ON Prime start-up MGA Thermal Storage
“The most rewarding part is seeing that energy companies are interested in our idea”
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs