Our latest Startup for 10 is a deep tech special with QLM Technology Ltd! Founded in 2017, QLM develops a quantum sensing system for the oil & gas industry, for the detection of methane leaks from well-heads and pipelines.

Dr Doug Millington-Smith, Applications Manager at QLMHere to answer our 10 questions is Dr Doug Millington-Smith, Applications Manager at QLM:

1 - In your own words - what do you do?

Whilst the oil and gas majors have pledged to significantly reduce methane emissions in coming years, you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and no-one is measuring methane properly, continuously, and at scale. 

QLM Technology Ltd seeks to enable organisations to achieve net zero through mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.  Our revolutionary quantum single photon detection technology provides a true understanding of methane emissions in an affordable, scalable and accurate manner, in the form of camera systems that continuously visualise and quantify methane plumes.

2 - What's the most exciting thing about what you're doing?

There are many solutions attempting to address the industry requirement for continuous monitoring of methane emissions, all of which bring something useful to the table (some solution visualise well but do not quantify, others quantify but do not localise, others have poor resolution at the facility scale). None are providing the 24/7 ability to visualise and quantify down to the equipment level, due to the inherent challenges of monitoring fugitive leaks, vents and exhausts, all of which provide different monitoring challenges that need to be overcome.

Utilising quantum single photon detection, QLM is the first solution that can offer all of this in a single package – a relatively small, light and easily deployable package. The exciting thing is the potential – not only can this solution genuinely address the problems associated with unmitigated methane emissions, but it can be scaled up to offer that solution on a global scale.

3 - What are you most proud of so far?

Two major steps forward have occurred almost simultaneously in recent weeks. 

Firstly, QLM has been named a 20201 BNEF Pioneer by BloombergNEF, identifying it as one of a cohort of small companies with the most impactful and original technology innovations for advancing the low-carbon economy. Picked from over 250 applications from 36 different countries, QLM is the only UK-based company to feature among the Pioneers

Secondly, and even more promising for the future, QLM has recently successfully closed is seed round of funding. The £3.1 million investment is led by the Green Angel Syndicate and includes the Enterprise100 syndicate, the Newable Venture Fund, the Development Bank of Wales, the Bristol Private Equity Club, the Britbots Seed Fund, and Houston-based oilfield technology solutions provider ChampionX.

The multidisciplinary consortium of green investors, technology accelerators and oil and gas industry professionals shares QLM’s vision of enabling organisations to achieve Net Zero through mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. The investment will drive the expansion of QLM’s technical and commercial capability, secure industrial validation of the unique quantum TDLidar technique, and provide a roadmap to commercial readiness of the revolutionary quantum gas camera.

4 - What have you found most difficult about being a startup?

There are multiple challenges associated with starting out, but they are balanced out by the burgeoning potential and opportunity to quickly grow as your business plan is successful.

Mostly, however, in a startup, there is nowhere to hide. You don’t have a safety blanket of an office full of colleagues doing the same work who can help you out (not that there is anything wrong with that).  Each member of the small team (QLM currently has eight staff members) has to wear several hats at once, and model them all equally well. It’s hard graft, but it can be very rewarding when you see it pay off.

5 - What would you do differently if you started now?

We would have started fundraising sooner, knowing how long it would take to come to fruition. The process does not happen overnight, and in the case of both the pre-seed and seed investment rounds, took longer than planned. 

QLM's camera

This comes with a benefit, in that the seed round closed at a much higher figure than originally planned, so the delay was a good problem to have, but delays do cause uncertainty, and starting sooner means that uncertainty can be allayed sooner.

6 - Where do you think you'll be in 12 months?

This time next year, QLM is planning to putting the finishing touches on its fully commercial camera release. At present, we are building minimum viable products primarily designed for field trials and demonstrations –the camera is currently larger, heavier and more expensive than it could be. The future design will be smaller and lighter (suitable for mounting on a UAV as well as in fixed emplacements), easier to manufacture (benefitting scale-up to the industrial level and driving down price), and have greater autonomy of operation (enabling true 24/7/365 unattended monitoring of emissions).

7 - What tools/people/services/organisations from the cluster have helped you most?

QLM has been able to call upon the support of a range of assistance, both technical and commercial. The support of Science Creates and Unit DX in housing the business, the collaboration with STL Tech – across the hall in the same building – on the groundbreaking SPLICE project, Innovate UK driven consultancy from BusinessWest, and the ongoing support of the University (another SPLICE partner) have all helped to get QLM to where it is now. 

8 - What's the best thing about the Bristol & Bath tech cluster?

Pretty similar to the above – Bristol & Bath have strong connections to the technology community and it's increasingly becoming a hub for deep tech and quantum applications. Having started at QTEC, QLM continues to be able to find collaborative support in software engineering, infrastructure and academic research from a rich pool of talent right on its doorstep.  As it scales up its operation following the completion of the seed round, it will be looking to recruit from this readily available supply of expertise in the first instance.

9 - Who will you be nominating for a SPARKie next year?

With so many sources of assistance in the cluster, it is difficult to choose, but for the sheer depth of relationship and volume of work delivered over the course of an incredibly challenging year, we would give the nod to STL Tech. Their collaborative effort with WLM, particularly on both the internal and customer-facing software aspects of the offering, has been tremendous.

10 - Where can we find out more about you?

We have recently revamped our website to make it into a repository of all of our most recent material as well as a hub for news. Take a look at www.qlmtec.com, and also find us on social media:

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Thanks to the QLM Team for another great Startup for 10! If you've been enjoying the deep tech features, you can read more about the deep tech talent in the region here or enjoy a breakdown of some deep tech companies to know about in the South West here.