GE has named five companies specialising in wave energy, smart grid, water efficiency, recycling and carbon free engines as the winners of its first cleantech competition to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
The “ecomagination Challenge” attracted 191 entries and 35 finalists in the competition, which was something of both a marketing and a fishing expertise for GE, one of the largest industrial companies in the world and one of the most committed to next generation technologies.
CEO and chairman Jeff Immelt was in Australia to present $100,000 cheques to the winners, and $10 million will be available to invest in promising start-ups and ideas from these and other entries that impressed the GE selection board. Others will be helped in validation, distribution and development.
“Innovation plays a crucial role in enhancing people’s lives and improving national productivity, economic growth and competitiveness. GE has a strong track record of investment in clean technology and we recognise the importance of supporting new technology developments beyond our own operations,” said Ben Waters, Director of ecomagination, GE Australia & New Zealand.
Applicants to the Australian Government’s $200 million Clean Technology Innovation Program will be able to use GE’s ecomagination Challenge as part of the private sector contribution to their project. The government’s Department of Industry and Innovation is also involved in another cleantech competitionwhich is being launched next week.
The five winners of the GE challenge were:
Engineair – Melbourne engineer Angelo Di Pietro has invented the Di Pietro Engine, a carbon-free alternative to internal-combustion and electric motors. The rotary air engine, powered by compressed air, has up to 94 per cent efficiency and zero polluting emissions.
Hydroxsys – an Auckland-based company, started by engineer Daryl Briggs, has designed membrane technology that captures and recycles 90 per cent of water and around 85-90 per cent of energy from industrial processes to be fed back into the manufacturing process.
Bombora – renewable energy generation technology invented by a West Australian company, which takes advantage of Australia’s significant wave resource. Each Bombora device could supply electricity for up to 500 homes.
Greensync – Melbourne-based Greensync has developed an advanced software tool that enables electricity network planners to find alternatives to capital infrastructure. The technology reduces energy consumption by three per cent and costs by 10 per cent by monitoring and managing loads at peak times.
Outpost Central – New Zealand-based co-founders James Riddell and Jedd Forbes have developed smart water meters that can help water utilities, mining and farming organisations achieve 20 per cent savings in water usage within the first year
Here’s some more about the individual winners (material supplied by GE)
Like many start-ups, GreenSync was started out of a garage to address challenges to the electricity grid from the instability of wind and solar penetration. GreenSync founder, Phil Blythe, a research scientist and an engineer by training, worked hard over a number of years to develop the software and analytics.
“After working with demand response for two years, we got to know the business domain inside out , and where the pain points were for customers. Once we understood that, we could see a new way of doing things that strengthened the value proposition for everyone,” Blythe said.
GreenSync applied specialised ‘big data’ analytics to the task of managing peak energy demand, increasing the reliability of the grid, and lowering energy costs for end users. The technology represents a cheaper method than gas peaking power stations to offset these peaks, whilst lowering customer energy costs.
“The transition to a low carbon economy is tough in the energy sector, and it is going to take many small steps to get there. We see our technology as one of the key steps to stability and flexibility in the electrical grid,” Blythe said.
“By monitoring for residual loads, and curtailing loads at peak times, we typically demonstrate a three per cent reduction in overall energy consumption, and around 10 per cent reduction in energy costs. Overall, our contribution to greenhouse gas reduction through supporting the transition to renewable energy as well as direct emission reductions is forecast to be 88,000 tonnes of CO2 over the next five years.”
Two key challenges the world faces is a dependence on fossil fuels and climate change from increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Melbourne engineer Angelo Di Pietro has invented a rotary air engine which tackles these problems. Powered by compressed air, the Di Pietro Engine is a carbon-free alternative to internal combustion and electric motors, with proven mechanical efficiency.
Twelve years ago, Angelo closed his engineering business to pursue his lifelong passion to develop a technology that he believes will eliminate unnecessary waste, inefficiency and excessive pollution in vehicle propulsion. This was based on an idea he had 30 years earlier when he was working on the Wankel engine in Germany.
“I’ve always had a strong passion and belief that through mechanics I can help solve some of the toughest problems the world is facing. It’s a belief that’s moving closer to reality every day,” said Di Pietro. He says the true breakthrough of the technology lies in the simple design of the motor which is compact, inexpensive and has market potential, particularly in motoring applications.
“Compressed air-powered vehicles are not just environmentally friendly, they are cheap to build and could benefit cities and industries across the world. Our technology is many times lighter and smaller than a conventional engine, but capable of similar performance.”
Already fitted to a number of motor vehicles, the Di Pietro technology has proven it is possible to power vehicles by compressed air, replacing internal combustion engines and electric motors. The electricity used to compress the air can come from renewable sources such as hydro, wind and solar.
“We can run a forklift on compressed air continuously for two hours, with a two minute refill time. This shapes up really well when compared to an electric forklift that will run for four hours but takes hours to recharge. We’ve also seen strong performance from vehicles including a burden carrier, a utility truck, motorcycles, and a car.”
Bombora Wave Power
Glen Ryan has a long history of developing renewable energy projects and services in the wind turbine space. After a career as a technical and commercial energy specialist in the mining industry and through his exposure to the renewable energy sector, Glen saw an opportunity to take advantage of Australia’s largely untapped wave resource.
Working in partnership with his brother Shawn, their goal was to develop a wave-based technology that was economically competitive with on-shore wind power generation, currently the lowest cost renewable energy source. The key for Bombora was to create a cost effective device that was robust, reliable and strong enough to withstand the strong storms often encountered by wave generators.
Different to many of its competitors, Bombora’s devices are placed at depths of just five to 10 metres, taking advantage of near shore wave power rather than deep water waves. This allows for greater reliability and uses the surge and heave motions of the waves to generate power. The technology also allows for direct conversion to electricity within the device which only requires a simple power cable back to shore. This provides efficiency gains and is a lower capital cost than the alternative of large hydraulic pipes used by other near shore devices.
The CSIRO predicts that by 2050, 11 per cent of Australia’s electricity generation could come from wave power, and Bombora hopes its technology will be at the forefront of this mass power generation. “Wave power is complementary to other sources of renewable energy but offers predictability up to several days which other sources like wind can’t. The ocean resources are virtually untapped, and given that 90 per cent of the world’s population is located close to the coast, the technology has the potential to be a real game changer,” Mr Ryan said.
Daryl Briggs, a self-confessed membrane boffin with a strong background in dairy engineering, started developing the technology that HydrOxSys would later commercialise out of his back shed in Auckland in 2010. His vision was to create a technology that could help solve water problems around the world and give traditionally “dirty” industries the technology they need to clean up their operations.
His initial focus was to create a chemically durable, abrasion resistant and food safe membrane for the dairy industry to remove water from milk. However, the further Briggs progressed with the technology, the more it became apparent that the membrane had applications well outside the dairy industry. The technology is also relevant for traditionally water-heavy industries like mining, bauxite and oil and gas, to help recycle and reuse water and energy.
Fast-forward three years and HydrOxSys is in full flight. Mark Hartstone, who has had a 35 year career in successful start-ups, management and international marketing, has joined the organisation as CEO, working with Briggs, the board and advisory board to commercialise the technology.
“We are currently working in conjunction with two New Zealand universities and industry partners in mining and dairy to validate the technology in their plants and processes,” Hartstone said. “GE’s support is really a game changer for us. It gives us the ability to provide working prototypes to organisations in the dairy, mining, bauxite and oil and gas sectors, with a goal to commercialise these partnerships.”
The world is facing a fresh water shortage by 2025. According to the United Nations, water use has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change.1
With this in mind, Outpost Central co-founders James Riddell and Jedd Forbes set out to develop an alternative technology that addresses the demand for water, rather than trying to increase supply. Together, they developed WASP – smart water meters built with an internal SIM card, 10- year battery life and a waterproof data logger.
Starting in 2002 and growing to a team of 15, Outpost Central now works with water utility customers in NZ, Australia, Africa and Europe as well as customers in the mining and farming industries. “We wanted to help organisations manage their water needs. Rather than spending more to invest in dams and larger desalination plants, our goal was provide them with an alternative solution that will help them to reduce the demand in water, rather than to increase the supply.”
The Smart Meter collects data and sends it to a secure database stored in the cloud. The data is analysed and alerts customers if something is operating outside of normal expectations or there are usage irregularities. From this data, customers can make informed decisions on where there might be a leak or where to invest in upgrades to infrastructure. The systems read the meter every five minutes, to ensure each customer has the most up-to-date data.
“The results speak for themselves,” said Riddell. “A commercial customer will start seeing reductions in water usage almost immediately. Some can achieve 20 per cent savings in water usage within the first year.” A project with a West Australian-based customer has seen early savings of 290 million litres per year as a result of identified leaks, faulty equipment or improved irrigation efficiency. “My long-term goal is to have our device on every household water meter worldwide. To provide customers with the information they need to direct planning and infrastructure investments by having a better understanding of how residents use water.”