By YOKE HAR LEE
Vortec Energy - after spending $5 million on what its chief describes as New Zealand's most expensive "sculpture" - has emerged with new wind-harnessing technology and made its first licensing deal.
Robin Johannink, Vortec's managing director, is painfully frank about the first under-performing wind turbine-prototype. "The bottom line was, it didn't do what it should have done."
The prototype, built about 110km from Auckland, achieved only half the results, he said.
"We had the dilemma - either walking away from the project or figuring out what we were going to do next. We spent the next year figuring out what Grumman [the original technology provider] did wrong."
That done, he said, "we went about reconstruction and finding new ways to build the next generation."
Vortec had initially raised $7 million from investors. It has now found investors willing to put in a further $4 million, with prospects of $1 million more early next year.
The company thinks it can provide wind energy at about 25 per cent under the cost of the best available technologies.
Last week the company signed its maiden licensing agreement with Australian energy company Primergy. The latter has rights to market the Vortec technology to power companies in Australasia. It also has restricted agreements to sell Vortec to other places.
Bruce Sheppard, a key investor in Vortec and in Mr Johannink's other company, Pacific Lithium, said that with the licensing agreement signed Vortec would start to look interesting.
For Vortec, the past 18 months had been spent finding a solution to correct the flaw in assumptions used by Grumman for its Diffuser Augmented Wind Turbine technology. This technology was supposed to raise the wind turbine's output based on drawing air through a wider air space on the width of the turbine's blade. "They assume wrongly that through the drawing in of the air, that would be evenly spread through the whole space of the blade."
In fact the air was concentrated on the tips of the blade, he said.
"What we have done is we have been able to widen the bandwidth at which the speed up at the tips is being experienced. That brought that speed from the tips a lot closer to the centre of the blade [or the diffuser]."
The team at Vortec had also made the turbine more economically viable by designing new construction material for the turbine, also based on the creation of an inlet which improves the economics of the turbine.
This time round, Vortec hopes it has got the mathematics right.
Mr Johannink said there was still a 10 per cent chance that computer estimates on the turbines' capabilities could under perform.
But he is a lot more confident as two outside sources of research - the University of Auckland and Gifu Institute in Japan - churned out comparable figures.
By YOKE HAR LEE