The engineer who invented an alarm to alert of volcanic eruptions | Economy

The engineer who invented an alarm to alert of volcanic eruptions | Economy

With its eruption of 2010, the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull gave a strong blow to the global economy, equivalent to 4,700 million dollars (4,086 million euros). But the threat that generated its ash cloud poisoned the air sector: more than 100,000 flights canceled, about seven million affected and losses of 1,600 million dollars for airlines. Part of that impact was for preventive reasons, given the lack of more precise data on which areas were most affected by the expansion of the ash expelled into the atmosphere.

That strong affectation is at the origin of Mitiga Solutions. The spin-off arising from Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) wanted to find a system that limited those affectations and seems to have done it. For the time being, it has been able to attract the interest of airlines, engine manufacturers and insurers to integrate their solutions. The idea (to have a valid prediction system so that the actors of the aviation industry could decide whether to fly or not) emerged in 2016 and in 2017 they began to develop software that would allow delimiting those risks.

The program (called Monarch-Ash), based on simulation weather models, is now ready and the company has started to close deals with some customers, among which are the Volotea airline, the Rolls-Royce reactor manufacturer and the group Willis insurer. It is able to define in detail how the cloud of ash evolved from a volcanic eruption.

"Our goal is to be able to make an early detection of how a volcanic cloud or sandstorm will affect", explains Alex Martí, an environmental engineer with extensive curriculum who has published a couple of articles in the journal Nature deconstructing volcanic eruptions and which is now the CEO of the company. The company's experience is based on a history of volcanic eruptions in order to ensure a prediction at 48 hours and delimit the geographical position of volcanic lava, at what altitude, at what exact time and at what concentrations. In this way, he emphasizes, the 500 million dollars lost each year due to flight cancellations due to eruptions can be minimized, of which 80 are produced per day.

According to Martí, the application allows new formulas to compute risks in the aeronautical sector. The airlines will have a more limited area of ​​risk and will gain decision-making power, the turbine manufacturers will be able to control if their engines have passed through risk areas and apply surcharges based on that overexposure and insurers, until now very interested in being able to predict earthquakes and tsunamis, they will have more information about the circumstances of the incidents in the flights and how to value their premiums.

First tests

Mitiga, which has attracted 1.1 million euros in a round of financing with the participation of Sabadell Venture Capital, has started work with the first customers in tests. Its objective is to reach a business of between 22 and 23 million euros in the next five years and an operating result (ebitda) of 15 million in the same period. The company is valued at six million, Martí considers that it could require more capital in a period of between 12 and 18 months, although he does not rule out that the income itself will allow him to avoid this new financing phase.

To segment your business, the company has divided the globe into nine control regions. The companies that hire their services may select one, diverse or all of the zones. Its advantage is that it is the first company to attack such a market, valued in 2017 at around 35,000 million dollars between the aviation sector, insurance and engines, according to the company's calculations.

The BSC, a shareholder of the company with 15% of the capital, has given it its technology and Mitiga can still benefit from access to the Marenostrum supercomputer, the second most powerful one that currently exists in Europe. Its use has been essential for the analysis of the data that has served to create your business model.


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