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Ecomagination ANZ Challenge Winners Set to Develop Renewable Energy Technologies

During March, several companies focused on developing low-carbon innovations were announced as winners of GE’s first ever ecomagination Challenge in Australia and New Zealand. The five winners, each awarded a total of AUD $100,000, will develop innovative renewable and smart energy applications in fields as diverse as wave power and engine technology. So, how do the new technologies work? And what are the prospects for future scale-up and commercialisation?

Bombora Wavepower

The first winner, Bombora Wave Power, will continue the development of its wave power technology, consisting of a V-shaped concrete device that can be mounted on the sea bed close to shore in water depths of between four and 15 metres. 

As Glen Ryan, Director at Bombora Wavepower, explains, the award will be used to initiate Bombora's next development phase, which will consist of further performance validation and design optimisation.  According to Ryan, the company will also be "engaging with GE and exploring an array of technical and commercial options to leverage off their global knowledge and skill base" to enable it to bring the technology to market as quickly as possible.

For brother Shawn Ryan, the main technological challenge lies in "deploying a device in a marine environment, ensuring it operates reliably over the life of the project and that it can be easily maintained."  Even though he admits that Bombora are at "a much earlier stage" than other developers, he stresses that the company has spent "considerable time and effort" in ensuring that its device meets these requirements.

"We have a very simple process characterised  by minimal moving components and we have minimised their exposure to the sea," he says.

Ultimately, Bombora’s goal is to be cost competitive with onshore wind, but the company will initially focus on deployments that have both a favourable industry incentive and wave resource.  Although the highest yielding wave resources are typically in the mid latitudes and on the western facing coasts Ryan says that Bombora’s strategy has focused on developing a device that can also be deployed in lower yielding coastlines.

Following a two year design and engineering phase, Bombora will embark on a three year program to construct, install and test its first commercial demonstrator — with the device becoming operational around half way through the process.

"Bombora has some preliminary sites identified locally in Western Australia and will be working with governments to enable this to happen," says Ryan.

Engineair

Melbourne, Australia-based company Engineair will use its award for the further development of its novel air motor engine technology — based on a unique rotary piston concept.  According to Angelo Di Pietro, Managing Director at Engineair, the engine uses compressed air, or any other pressurised medium, as the driving power, does not have a conventional crankshaft and is not subject to reciprocating motion, resulting in no vibration.

"It is clean, non-polluting and [does] not rely on petroleum.  It can be charged up from a filling station in a matter of minutes, rather than hours compared to batteries," he says.

The concept, known as a Rotary Air Engine, is based on a simple cylindrical rotary piston, which rolls without any friction, inside a cylindrical stator.  Di Pietro says that there is "no technical obstacle" to the scale-up of his technology and, with adequate funding, he believes that filling stations and other operational infrastructure will be relatively easy to establish.

"The technology is ready for manufacturing — with a company such as GE, the product can be sold around the world within a year," he says.

Greensync

Meanwhile, Melbourne-based Greensync will further development of an advanced software tool that enables electricity network planners to find alternatives to capital infrastructure projects.  According to Phil Blythe, Managing Director at Greensync, the genesis of the technology — which reduces energy consumption by 3 percent and costs by 10 percent through monitoring and managing loads at peak times — came from working with the Australian electricity utilities on demand side management (DSM) programs.  

"Our technology is software, data and highly refined algorithms that runs in the cloud.  We use them to model the electricity networks, the load that flows through them, and the costs associated with all aspects of the network, such as starting a diesel generator, connecting solar, switching off large plant loads, and so on.  The result is that planners can create a scenario, and forecast how the network will behave with all of these elements present," says Blythe.

The Ecomagination award will be spent on further R&D and testing, with the plan being to test the software on real network elements over 2013 and 2014.

"Big challenges for us are the number of variables involved in network design, and what simplifications we can make to enable us to build a usable tool.  If we add too much detail, it will become too cumbersome and expensive, and not meet its original objective of providing planners with tools to help them move off a relatively low base in designing and costing DSM programs," says Blythe.

"Our commercialisation is initially focused on Australia and New Zealand at this point in time, to which we have several utilities with whom we are speaking with for forthcoming trials.  Beyond that, we will towards the international markets in U.S. and Europe through partnerships," he adds.

Outpost Central & Hydroxsys

Two more winners, Auckland-based companies Hydroxsys and Outpost Central, will use their awards to further development of their water management technology.  

Hydroxsys has designed membrane technology that captures and recycles 90 percent of water and around 85-90 percent of energy from industrial processes to be fed back into the manufacturing process.

Meanwhile, Outpost Central has developed a small battery-powered device to connect water meters and sensors to the cloud to provide detailed information on water consumption and efficiency.  Current customers include water utilities, farmers, mining companies and large industrial users of water.

"The Outpost web platform transforms them from being blind to their water consumption to having rich information on their usage patterns.  One customer identified 290 million liters per year of water savings by identifying leaks, faulty equipment and improved irrigation efficiency within a few months of deploying the Outpost system," says James Riddell, Director at Outpost Central.

"The cash prize has been fantastic, but even more important to us has been the recognition of our efforts and vision by GE — a global leader in innovation and sustainability," he adds.

Although it was 'relatively easy' to get the first systems up and running, Riddell explains that the real technological and operational challenges come from scaling the technology and the business processes as the company grows.

"There are so many processes and developments that go on behind the scenes in a growing technology company.  Manufacturing in volume, automated test systems, billing systems, support systems, reducing the cost to allow margin for distribution channels, scaling the databases and software, finding good people to join the team.  Creating a prototype is the easy part!" he says.

"The advantage of our architecture is that we have full visibility of every device we ever sell as they are all connected to our cloud platform.  This gives us vital feedback for support and the continuous improvement of the technology," he adds.

The product is already commercialised, with customers in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Asia and Europe — with a long-term aim being to find the right partners to "begin a push into Europe and the U.S."

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