Happy Campers: Sensible Energy

Sensible Energy is a tech startup founded by Erasmus Rothuizen and Torben Ommen. Both got +10 years of research experience from DTU. Many of the startups and companies at The Camp focus on software, so we were curious to learn more and decided to have a talk with Erasmus and Torben about what they do and why they founded Sensible Energy.


What do Sensible Energy do?

We are an engineering company with a strong focus on thermodynamics, being a heating and cooling process of all kinds. 

Our knowledge is specialized but can be used for many applications such as hydrogen gas systems, thermal storage technologies, heat pumps etc.

Examples of our work are pyrolysis processes for plastic with temperatures exceeding 700 C and liquefaction of biogas at temperatures below -150 C. Sensible Energy also engages in research projects, and we are at the moment designing a power producing ORC to use with low temperature heat. It can come from solar panels or industrial waste heat.

We help develop products and services by modeling, designing, and optimizing components and processes. Whether we act as an integrated partner with existing R&D departments, or as an independent development team, we can contribute from idea to market entrance.

Our mission is to help the transition from fossil powered energy sources to green energy sources, which of course takes a lot of steps. But it’s what we’ve both been doing for ten years at DTU, where we have worked with various technologies for the green transition.

At the moment we have two focus areas. One is consulting for clients who are developing large scale thermal plants and the second and more long term, is the development of components or concepts of our own. 

We don’t see ourselves as an Engineering consulting company for several reasons. Partly because we want to develop our own products and blueprints, and partly because we aim our consulting contribution in the development phase rather than the engineering phase.

What makes you different from the other engineering consulting companies?

We are mechanical engineers with a focus on thermodynamics, and we’ve worked with research within thermal systems for example district heating systems, large heat pumps, CHP plants, hydrogen gas stations and energy storage of different types, as well as gas systems. So, we have a pretty wide range of experience.

We also have a different approach due to our background, so we aren’t scared to say ”yes”, if it’s something we would be able to model numerically, calculate and figure out how it works. We would rather give it a shot and try to fix the problem, rather than saying “We don’t have proven experience in this specific field.”

We will sit down and draw up a plan and calculate it. There is an uncertainty for the client,  it isn’t guaranteed to work, but it isn’t guaranteed either if they put together their own development department, but we believe that we can do it better and faster than many others can. 

This approach is linked with another of our value propositions, which is our experience in publishing and examination of research articles. We are used to reading scientific literature, patents, and a bunch of different technical information. We have experience in assessing whether it’s something we can find in the literature, or it’s something that might border on a patent.

We have strong contacts and connections to the research community, so it’s in our DNA that we want to be research oriented and have contact with professors and participate in supervising PhD students, who help or contribute to developing other new technologies.

We also have two students doing their thesis with us at the moment. A bachelor student at Aarhus University, and the other is doing a masters project from Technical University of Denmark. In the future we plan to participate in or co-finance Ph-D- candidates, so we can keep our strong connection to the research community.

So, to sum it up. What makes us different is that we draw on our specialization in broad range of areas such as thermodynamics, physics, applied chemistry, we are willing to break new ground in a development project and take a big risk in combination with our network of specialized people from the research community and finally our hands on experience having worked with several different energy systems.


Who are your clients?

For the consulting leg of our business, our clients wants an existing product to be developed further in a greener direction. Or even make a completely new product line which can be part of their green transition.

They must have the ambition to move into a new territory, where they don’t already have their own development department working. It is somebody who comes to us and says, “We want to make a new product, and we lack the qualifications ourselves, and we hope that within one or two pilots, we’ll have a potential new product”. 

An example would be, let’s say a major emitter of carbon dioxide, who wants to reduce their climate impact by depositing it in underground caverns. We don’t specialize in separating CO2 from the flue gas, but we have developed an efficient concept how to handle the gas in all the steps following the separation. Unfortunately the project owner did not receive development funding yet, but lets see what the future brings.

The stereotype of our consulting clients doesn’t have a big development department for green transition. It’s more likely an industrial company, who have been having the same production for twenty or more years and are now trying to figure out how they can transfer the technology they have, to a new application.


What made you start Sensible Energy?

We’ve known each other for 15 years by now. All the way back writing our PhD at DTU at the same time. We’ve been talking about starting our own company since 2011-12 while drinking a couple of beers at Østerbros Perle. Back then there were already some interest in the things we were doing, but we had trouble figuring out how it could be turned into a business, so we never realized a company back then. Retrospective, it was a good thing, because today we have much more experience with us. 

The idea of someday starting our own company has been there for a while, and then in 2018 we were asked to develop a thermodynamic model of a specific concept. We got permission from DTU to start a side company, where we could spend between 2 and 6 hours a week next to our permanent jobs, until we got the opportunity to go all in. 

In the beginning it was just something fun to do and it wasn’t until 2021 we started full time. The “push” came because some of the projects we had been working on took off and suddenly they had an urgent and large need to get things developed, both components and calculations. 

The first couple of months we were running on the sideline and then took unpaid leave. We realized that it was about time to make a choice and now we had this great opportunity to start without necessarily taking a big financial risk to begin with.

We didn’t wake up and said “Wow, I can’t wait to make this startup” but the opportunity was suddenly there and we both were ready to try something new after 11 years as researchers at DTU. 

We really appreciate the different kinds of pressure to deliver, and it is also a new challenge and a way to test yourself. That said, we’ve been incredibly lucky. Several of our friends who’ve started companies have had to build everything up from scratch, which means they have taken big financial risks. We’ve been able to jump right into it without having to worry about whether we could handle it economically. 

It’s of course a risk we’re taking right now, but not a massive one. We both have children and mortgage so if we had to start from completely zero it would have been a very different situation.

We are putting a lot of hours into this, but I do believe we basically got it served on a silver platter compared with others who have started from scratch. 


What are your plans?

While we are as small as we are, we have our vision of where we want to go over the next 5 years, but it is a learning process we intend to  achieve day by day. It’s a lot of making budgets and sitting down to discuss whether it’s realistic to do the things we want and being critical about our own ideas.

We want Sensible Energy to be a personal place, even though we might grow in numbers. We don’t want to be a company where you get placed in a random cubicle like a worker ant. 

So the size of Sensible Energy is not a goal in itself and there’s an important reason why we’ve talked about being maximum 15 employees. We wish to have a very flat structure where everybody has access and contact with clients.

We want it to be a company where we don’t have to hire a full-time employee whose only job is to organize everything and in the future, we want it to be a place where we don’t have a need for a HR department. We don’t want all these titles, if we’re all development engineers then that’s fine, and we can call it partners, we don’t want all that CEO, COO, CTO stuff. 

For us it’s more a wish to go out and test ourselves and make a positive impact and difference in the green transition. 

What are your recommendations for other researchers who might also be interested in starting their own business?

1) Be aware of the consequences, because starting a company is harder than you might think

The majority who start their own business really experience a rough start. A situation that can last for many years. We have colleagues, who right after their master went out into a company, and there were several years where they lived on what equates to unemployment benefits. It’s luckily enough working out for them now, but there were many years where they had to make economical sacrifices to get it up and running. 

2) Keep looking for the idea… 

You need the idea, the product, or some sort of service which no one offers cheaper or better.

3) Start while you are a student or wait…

I would recommend that if you are young and a student, and you have a good idea; then follow it. Try it out before you have children and a house and while you still have the energy and time. After all, we can’t put in 220 hours, we at most put in 180 hours, and then we are also under a bit of pressure at home. On the other side it’s a good thing to have some more ballast and experience. It is more down to being willing to put in the time and effort needed.

4) You don’t have to build a product 

At Sensible Energy we don’t trust fully in a one technological concept or product, but more believe in ourselves and trust that we can solve issues together. We are a lot more people driven, than if we wanted to make for example a new type of drone. In that case we would really have to believe that this drone is an amazing idea, and that it’s the right time to do it. Many researchers do have specialized knowledge which is a strong foundation for a company. 


Read more about Sensible Energy at their website:

Meet the companies

View all