The WWL Orcelle Award, at the recent Ocean Exchange event, went to the Vortex Turbine technology from Belgian startup Turbulent. Geert Slachmuylders founded Turbulent with his college classmate Jasper Verreydt, who added the necessary finance and law skills to Geert’s Masters in Electromechanics and Intelligent Mobility.
Although hydropower accounts for one-sixth of the world’s energy, it had been impossible to extract the substantial energy found in the vortexes that form within turbulent flows. Whereas previous technology avoids turbulent waters, Turbulent’s solution does the opposite, generating vortexes to use the kinetic and potential energy for electricity generation.
They use the principles of rapid prototyping, simulation techniques and outsourced production to keep the cost down to a fraction of traditional hydropower installations, a cost saving that is passed on to the end user.
Key to fast growth will be getting their product out into the field as quickly as possible, so Geert has very clear plans to use the USD $100,000 prize money to find those customers.
“Our business model is to install decentralized hydropower on sites with low head that were previously incompatible with existing hydropower technology. As such we need to do a lot of field research ourselves. In this connected world, we're making use of all the open data and smart search algorithms to find the sites. The other part of the prize money goes into our sales effort so we can establish our technology as the market standard in low head clean energy.”
Although still a small operation based in Belgium, the team has global ambitions as proven by the location of many of their customers: Chile.
Geert has just finished the installation of their first production-ready turbine in a canal in the Rancagua region, around 100km south of the elongated country’s capital, Santiago. The turbine is designed to produce 15kW from 1.5m head.
“We are excited to see the results of this installation. It doesn't care about debris or sediments. They just pass through”, explains Geert. He says the secret for winning international business, despite being a young startup company, is simply “looking outside of our borders and by travelling.”
“Our core belief is that we want to create a better, cleaner world. And we want to see that world with our own eyes and interact with different cultures. Our multicultural team is always looking for the next innovation, as well as new markets to explore and new cultures to learn from”, explains Geert.
This is not the first award picked up by Geert. In 2015 his idea was given the illustrious title of “Best Startup in the World” at the Startup Nations event, while in 2016 he was recognised as the best innovator under 35 by MIT. Geert aims high, a trait shared across his Turbulent team.
"Ambitious leaders like Geert and his team are exactly what the CleanTech sector needs to make an impact on energy production and global environmental targets. Many companies and individuals today want to reduce their environmental impact through the use of renewable energy, but face restrictions with regard to space, cost and conditions. With the relatively unobtrusive and cost effective vortex solution, hydropower now becomes available to a larger audience", says Anna Larsson, Head of Sustainability at WWL.
While larger industrial groups work on bigger, end-to-end solutions, and smart grid technology, it’s affordable products like this which have the potential to make the biggest impact for many customers.
“The future of CleanTech is in decentralized and connected devices. Just like nature, which also works in networks of small units, our technologies have to go small to have a large impact. Already we're starting up business relationships with canal owners to install decentralized groups of turbines that have a combined average output of 2.5MW per canal. That's more than the surrounding city is using”, he says.
The sixth annual Ocean Exchange featured fifteen sustainable worldwide solutions that demonstrated the ability to generate economic growth and increase productivity while reducing the use of nature’s resources and waste production. The Orcelle Award program and grant is in its tenth year and recognizes a sustainable technology or solution that advances emissions reduction on land or sea.