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SMALL CAP SHARE IDEAS: Libertine at the forefront of green revolution

Boris Johnson, touting a green industrial revolution, set ambitious targets that, if followed through, could seal the fate of vans and cars powered by internal combustion.

His 10-point plan would bring down the curtain on sales of the vast majority of petrol and diesel polluters by 2030, though hybrids would be available for another five years.

Electric vehicles will be part of the solution, but they’re not a panacea.

However efficient batteries become, there are limits to deployment, not just in transportation, but across other areas of the growing circular economy.

Libertine Holdings makes linear generator products, which enable clean and efficient power generation from renewable fuels. Car and truck manufacturers General Motors, Volvo and, most recently, Toyota have tried to develop linear generators with limited success.

Hydrogen, wind, solar and biofuels will all have their role to play as Britain looks to address the severe climatological neglect first detected in the 1950s.

Innovation will be key, which means a growing Sheffield company may find itself at the forefront of a technological arms race as the big manufacturers look to find new green solutions in transportation and energy.

Libertine Holdings (16.5p) is the maker of linear generator products, which enable clean and efficient power generation from renewable fuels. Or more correctly, it has created a technology platform for the creation of linear generator products across a range of applications.

The market leader in this new product category is a US-based company called Mainspring Energy, which has already created and launched a successful linear generator that customers use to create green electricity.

Libertine’s target applications include small, packaged generators, but its platform has a host of other uses, including in hybrid powertrains for road transportation.

One of its corporate videos uses the example of a haulage company, where large battery-driven trucks are currently impractical on a number of levels, with recharging the main impediment to their commercial roll-out. Linear generator units would enable lorries to derive clean power from fossil-free fuels.

Car and truck manufacturers General Motors, Volvo and, most recently, Toyota have tried to develop linear generators with limited success.

None of these developers has moved the technology out of the lab. One of the main challenges has been the precise control of combustion as a result of the generator’s lack of a crankshaft.

Overcoming this issue requires a mix of sophisticated precision engineering, electronics solutions and software.

Libertine’s platform technology, intelliGEN, is a linear electrical machine and control technology platform that obviates the aforementioned technical obstacles.

‘Our technology combines e-machine hardware, embedded power electronics and controls along with the cooling and the bearing systems and the bounce chamber,’ explains Libertine chief executive, Sam Cockerill.

Using its patented know-how, Cockerill and his team aim to help equipment manufacturers, known as OEMs, create linear generators quickly, and relatively cheaply.

‘We aim to take away the pain and the risk and the hundreds of millions of dollars of cost and the high likelihood of failure which is normally been the case [with linear generators],’ says the Libertine CEO.

‘That’s our proposition, and we expect this is going to turn the journey of making a linear generator from being one or two decades of painful development and investing hundreds of millions of dollars, into something that you can get done in five years for a few tens of millions.’

Interest in the technology is growing and Libertine is currently working on the MAHLE Powertrain to showcase the potential of linear generator technology to its prospective OEM customers.

It also has partnerships with as-yet-unnamed companies in India, Sweden, Australia, Italy and here at home in the UK spanning power and transportation.

Commercially, the group operates a three-pronged model, where it is deriving or will generate cash from engineering fees, IP licence payments and sales royalties.

In late December, Libertine floated on AIM, raising £9million, which will be invested in expanding the engineering team and workshop facilities, while building out a business development operation

‘Essentially, this [money] is providing us with the means to scale, doing what we’ve already done, nut just without the constraints of organic growth,’ says Cockerill.

However, the ‘break-out point’ for the company, which was founded over 12 years ago, was not the initial public offering but came in 2017 when it received backing from the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund.

This provided Libertine with the financial wherewithal to set up its current facility in Sheffield and create a technical team.

‘[Since then] we have gone from revenue of a couple of hundred thousand a year, with a big component of that being grant revenues to around £3mln [of revenue] in this financial year,’ says Cockerill. ‘Over a third of that is commercial revenue.’

Interest in the Libertine story will no doubt be enhanced by the success of others in the sector, including the pathfinder, Mainspring Energy.