Interview with Joost van Oorschot, CEO, Maana Electric
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SME story: Interview with Joost van Oorschot, founder and CEO of Maana Electric

SME story: Interview with Joost van Oorschot, founder and CEO of Maana Electric

Maana is a combination of the words ‘Maan’ which means Moon in Dutch and ‘Mana’, which means power in Polynesian languages

Gulf Business
SME story: Interview with Joost van Oorschot, founder and CEO of Maana Electric

Tell us about your company – Maana Electric – and what inspired you to start it.

Maana Eletric is a combination of the words ‘Maan’ which means Moon in Dutch and ‘Mana’, which means power in Polynesian languages.

This perfectly describes our ‘origin’ story, as Maana was founded from our aspirations and research into in situ resource utilisation (ISRU) technologies for producing solar panels on the Moon, Mars and beyond.

During our research, we discovered that the technologies being developed were not only applicable in space, but also on Earth, where it could be used as an economically attractive, environmentally friendly, and flexible alternative to solar panel manufacturing.

What was only an idea in 2014, turned into a business in 2018 and has grown and flourished into a company with three locations worldwide and a product ready for market.

How has being a member of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund’s (MBRIF) accelerator programme helped expedite your growth?

We consider the Middle East, and particularly the UAE, as a great territory in terms of expansion. First, the country is very active in space exploration and there are many opportunities to scale the innovative technologies that we are developing.

Our engineers also have a chance to participate in pioneering space programmes. Secondly, the region is transitioning quickly to renewables and solar. A product like our TerraBox, a mobile containerised solar panel factory able to produce solar panels using only sand and electricity, fits particularly well within the strategy to be more independent while fostering local manufacturing.

The MBRIF programme was very useful to better understand the specific challenges of the UAE and Middle East, and to fine-tune our plans accordingly.

Tell us about your offering at Maana Electric, and its relevance to energy security both on the planet and off.

The TerraBox is a moveable solar panel factory, using locally available raw materials and electricity as its only inputs. The main value the TerraBox offers is:

  • A per watt price reduction of 30 per cent compared to conventional silicon solar panels (our panels are cheaper than Chinese panels).
  • Local production, reducing supply chains, associated emissions and enabling the local economy.
  • Produces solar panels with a vast reduction of CO2 emissions and chemicals usage in the production process.

Tell us about the technology driving your product. What makes it unique?

TerraBox utilises the latest ISRU and automated 4.0 processes to revolutionise the way in which panels are produced.

The TerraBox is a factory in the field’, producing photovoltaic (PV) panels in a portable automated plant operated remotely.

It requires only sand as the raw material input and, initially, electrical power supply until it has produced  enough panels to run autonomously with the power generated by those panels.

Each panel produced can be installed to start generating electricity. We are using the most advanced developments in mechanical, thermal and electrical engineering. We are specialists in mining, metallurgy and material science.

The TerraBox will be fully remote controlled and embedded with sensors. Once our fleet of TerraBoxes will be deployed across the world, we will collect a massive amount of data which will be processed via machine learning for continuous improvement of our machines and operations.

By providing an in-situ solution that simplifies the manufacturing process chain and cuts costs, we offer a real and short-term solution for sustainable power generation to curb global warming while reducing costs for developers.

Compared with panels produced conventionally, we are lowering the levelised cost of electricity, improving the financial viability of solar projects. We provide a safe disposal of the PV panels, and we reduce disposal costs, due to almost zero carbon emissions, no toxic chemicals and no hazardous waste.

Solar panels are 99.9 per cent recyclable by TerraBox. Plus, there’s no carbon offset versus four years for typical panels to offset CO2 emissions from manufacturing. Shed some light on the funding you have received and how you plan to use it.

We’ve been able to develop the company, thanks to large R&D contracts with the Luxembourg Space Agency and the European Space Agency, as they support our long-term vision to become the utility company of the solar system.

Recently, we’ve started welcoming private investors on board; it’s something we will continue in the coming years to pursue our growth.

Tell us about Maana Electric’s plans for the future.

In 2023, Maana Eletric will have our 1MW prototype TerraBox. We are aiming at deploying the technology in UAE with a first pilot project. In the following years, we will pursue our expansion with commercial projects around the world.

Our plan is to have multiple plants producing our TerraBoxes on all continents and operate a large fleet of TerraBoxes to deliver gigawatts of solar panels.

Also read: SME Story: Interview with Prabhakar Posam, CEO of Patang


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