Espallargas honored for entrepreneurship

Inventor of Therma SiC and founder of Seram Coatings named this year’s Female Entrepreneur

Photo: Stein J. Bjørge / Aftenposten
Nuria Espallargas and colleagues are about to build a 500 square meter factory in Trondheim, where the product ThermaSiC will be manufactured. (The spray on the image is not ThermaSiC.)

Rasmus Falck
Oslo, Norway

On March 8, International Women’s Day, Nuria Espallargas was named Norway’s Female Entrepreneur of the Year. The award is initiated by Innovation Norway and includes NOK 500,000 for further development of her company.

Espallargas is one of the founders of Seram Coatings, a startup that was spun off from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). The company was established in December 2014 and commercializes their invention of Therma SiC, a powder based on silicon carbide and used as a wear coating in what is known as thermal spraying. Many attempts had been made to produce such a powder based on SiC, but no one had succeeded until Espallargas broke the code with Fahmi Mubarok at NTNU.

It all started while she still was working on her doctorate in material technology in Spain. While many had tried unsuccessfully to create such a powder, Espallargas was dedicated to providing the solution. She came to Norway eleven years ago to finish her doctorate. While she could also have gone to the United Kingdom or Italy, she considered Scandinavia to be very exotic and chose Norway instead. After finishing her degree, she continued at NTNU and in 2012 she became the youngest female professor in technology. She received a start package and used it to hire Mubarok, a PhD student from Indonesia. Together they tried, experimented, and failed for two years before they finally succeeded.

The product was patented in 2014. Together with serial entrepreneur Gisle Østereng, they founded Seram Coatings. NTNU Technology Transfer Office and a handful of investors invested NOK 20 million in the company. The chairman is Sverre Skogen, who went to Denver University for business studies and is a seasoned industrial leader who knows the potential users.

The product can be applied as a coating by thermal spraying for the first time. It provides superior coating performance in corrosive and abrasive environments as well as high temperatures up to 1500 degrees Celsius in air and 2400 degrees Celsius in inert atmosphere. Silicon carbide is one of the world’s hardest synthetic materials and possesses lower density than competing solutions such as tungsten carbide. This gives the products a longer lifetime, lower maintenance costs, and a competitive advantage. Compared to vacuum deposition methods, thermal spray has a significantly lower cost. Typical applications would be sliding surfaces, rollers, gate valves, pumps, slides, ball valves, mechanical gears, and any kind of wear protection.

Seram Coatings received the prize for best entrepreneur in Mid-Norway in 2015. Last fall they received a grant of NOK 18 million from the EU for development support. In competition with the top universities in Europe, they won the Academic Enterprise Award in Barcelona. They have many customers on the waiting list, and according to plans it will be on the market this summer!

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his masters degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

This article originally appeared in the May 19, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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