Creating balanced generators for the hydropower industry

Two persons looking at a gadget in the lab

José Pérez-Loya and Johan Abrahamsson founded Magström AB together with Urban Lundin in 2014, the same year they created the new magnetic balancing technology. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Ten years ago, the founders of Magström were still working full-time at the Ångström Laboratory of Uppsala University. Today, the company is ready to take on the global hydropower market with its groundbreaking technology for magnetic balancing of generators.

Magström works with synchronous motors and generators, and is built around an innovative magnetic balancing solution.

“It is a completely new way of compensating for the fact that, in essence, no generator is perfectly balanced. In doing so, we solve the inevitable consequences of this – component wear and tear that leads to a shorter service life, and downtime that causes production losses,” says Johan Abrahamsson.

The result is a generator in perfect magnetic balance, despite mechanical deviations. For hydropower plants, Magström’s primary market, this translates into dramatically reduced operation and maintenance costs, reduced losses, and a longer service life for critical and capital-intensive investments.

Skills matching in a university environment

Magström is a spin-off from research at the Department of Electrical Engineering, where the founders started working together in 2014: Urban Lundin as professor and head of the hydropower group, José Pérez-Loya, then a doctoral student in electricity, and Johan Abrahamsson, who joined the group after recently earning a doctoral degree in electricity and several years of experience in research and development work from ABB.

“I had taken a doctorate on a technological solution that proved to be relevant to what Urban and José were working on. There was also a machine set up where they were investigating new technologies for generators. With a few simple modifications, it was perfect for testing the solution,” says Johan Abrahamsson.

två personer testar en pryl med liten lampa

Magström is a spin-off from research at the Department of Electrical Engineering, where the founders started working together in 2014. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

The team conducted the first test over a few weeks and the results were promising. After another two or three months, they had developed a combined hardware and software solution that has much the same functionality as the systems the company is now building for commercial use.

From lab to pilot installation

That same year, 2014, the three founded the company Magström and applied for a patent on their invention with the support of UU Innovation and Almi.

“It has taken ten years to go from the first installation in the lab to a commercial product. But then you have to take into consideration that we have been researching and teaching at the same time. Since the idea was new, a lot of research had to be done on the technology. We have been able to publish this, and the work has been very good and fun,” says José Pérez-Loya.

A milestone on the journey was in 2019 when Magström, in close collaboration with Uppsala University, Vattenfall, Statkraft, Fortum and Uniper (the latter is now part of Fortum), and with financial support from the Swedish Energy Agency, performed its first pilot installation in Vattenfall’s power station in Porjus.

“It was the first real installation and absolutely crucial for us. With the help of lessons learned and feedback from our partners, we have been able to both further refine the technology and gain credibility, which is crucial in this industry,” says Johan Abrahamsson.

Business development in focus

Despite ingenuity, excellent technical know-how and a commercially viable product, the team realised that this would not be enough to create the thriving company they dreamed of. They needed to supplement the team with expertise in business development and company building. Through the business incubator UIC, they met Jonas Listenius, who is now the company’s CEO.

In 2021, Magström began an extensive market initiative that has so far resulted in some 80 ongoing dialogues with hydropower players on six continents. In the autumn of 2023, the first commercial installation was completed at Vattenfall, another important milestone for the company.

två personer tittar på datorn

In mid-2021, Magström began an extensive market roll-out that has so far led to some 80 ongoing commercial dialogues with mainly hydropower players around the world. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Today, Magström has 18 employees – a mix of people with research backgrounds, experienced industrialists and younger talent. Johan Abrahamsson and José Pérez-Loya joined the company full-time in early 2023.

“Coming to Magström felt natural, not least because we were initially about the same group as at the University. Now, of course, there are more of us. But being among new people all the time is also similar to the university environment. In addition, it is less stressful than when we divided our time between research and business. Now we can hone our focus,” says José Pérez-Loya.

Close collaboration with the University

The relationship with the University is kept alive and well in all circumstances and is tenderly nurtured.

“It is incredibly good to be here in Uppsala. Many of our employees have a background from the University, and we are proactive in capturing the best students. Right now we have seven students, some of whom are investigating different ways of shipping the company’s systems, while others are working on mechanical engineering and design. We also have some future electrical engineers,” says José Pérez-Loya.

But there is also more research to be done, he says:

“There is a lot of exciting research to be done in our field, and we have some applications in the pipeline where we as a company are involved. I think it could be really interesting from an academic perspective.”

For José Pérez-Loya and Johan Abrahamsson, however, the focus is fully on the two systems that have now left the company’s workshop to be installed this summer. At that time, they will be sent off to power stations in both Medelpad and Switzerland.

Sara Gredemark

Magström AB

  • The company was founded in 2014 by Urban Lundin, José Pérez-Loya and Johan Abrahamsson, who at the time were working together at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Uppsala University. Urban Lundin still works part-time at the University, while Johan Abrahamsson and José Pérez-Loya work full-time in Magström’s operations.
  • The company has offices and manufacturing in Uppsala, with just under 20 employees. Magström also employs students from Uppsala University who are doing their degree project or working at the company alongside their studies.
  • Magström was honoured with the Innovation of the Year (Årets Innovation) award at the Entrepreneurial Gala (Företagargalan) in Uppsala 2024, and is also one of this year’s winners of the local business award Bona Postulata. In 2020, Magström was included in Ny Teknik’s 33 list of Sweden's most innovative and promising young technology companies.

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