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Vortex Power Systems: Revolutionary green energy

Initiative type:
Start-up
Sector:
Cleantech
Website:
UniServices Contact:

Opportunity

Many industrial processes use heat. However, these processes are inherently inefficient. In fact, half the world’s total energy consumption is lost as waste heat.

This waste heat, under 100 degrees, is at too low a temperature to easily repurpose economically. Unable to dump hot water in rivers because it would kill fish, industrial plants often cool it using massive fans, which wastes even more energy and money.

Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Ƶresearchers saw potential to capture this low-temperature waste heat.

“It’s a practical and ecological problem for industry but it's an opportunity for us,” says Neil Hawkes.

A revolutionary new technology

The inspiration for Vortex Power Systems came when Hawkes, an engineer, saw a whirlwind form on an airfield. Whirlwinds and waterspouts are driven by warm, saturated air converting low-temperature heat into kinetic energy in the form of a vortex.

Hawkes, who became a PhD candidate and CTO of Vortex Power Systems to pursue his idea, found a way to artificially create waterspouts by using low-temperature hot water from industry to heat and saturate a localised region of air, causing the air to rise. Swirl vanes, which look like a ring of angled yacht sails set in the ground, make the air swirl. The swirling, rising column of air then drives a turbine, which generates electricity. It’s akin to a windmill – but without the complexity and expense of hoisting machinery high in the air.

Vortex Power Systems’ technology has the potential to provide a cost-effective, efficient and eco-friendly solution to an industry-wide problem. While still in the early stages of development, it could revolutionize the way we generate and use electricity.

The company maintains the risks are minimal.

“If you were to pour oil on a table and set it alight, you could move the flame around by blowing on it because the source of fuel is diffuse. That’s what a natural whirlwind is like,” says Hawkes. “Our vortex is more like a flame on a candle. If you blow on a candle flame, you can’t detach the flame from the candle, but if you blow hard enough, you’ll blow it out.”

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“Notionally, 7.5 to 10 percent of any industrial process or power plant emissions could be cut by using our technology. That’s a couple hundred billion dollars of electricity and it would be zero-carbon.”
Perzaan Mehta,
Vortex Power Systems CEO

Though it has so far been testing a lab-scale model, the company says full-scale vortices will be able to withstand most wind conditions. To ensure safety, no-fly zones would need to be established in the immediate area. However, there are few flight paths in the way of the large industrial plants where the technology would be applied.

Because the wind power in the vortex is manmade, the power generation is more consistent and not as susceptible to the unpredictable nature of weather compared to a conventional wind turbine or a solar plant.

Vortex Power Systems

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Neil Hawkes, Vortex CTO

Performance

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Vortex Power Systems completed a seed round of funding in 2021, raising $2 million to operationalise the company. It’s now working to secure its next round of funding – about $5 million to build a full-scale demonstration station and run it for a year.

The company has broken ground on a site near Gisborne where it will build its demonstration station. It expects that by 2025, it could start licensing its technology to large engineering consultancies that would then sell it to their customers.

“Notionally, 7.5 to 10 percent of any industrial process or power plant emissions could be cut by using our technology,” says CEO Perzaan Mehta. “That’s a couple hundred billion dollars of electricity and it would be zero-carbon.”

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