In a new ‘insights from industry’ Kim Lyle, Chairman Elemental Energy Technologies, talks to Gary Thomas about the benefits in tidal power and how EET are making waves in this sector.
GT: Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that Elemental Energy Technologies works within and outline the key drivers?
KL: Domestic and international attention is heavily focused on solar, wind, geothermal, wave and the relatively new fields of ocean current, tidal and river power. Each of these green energy sources have important roles to play in meeting the growing demand for energy while displacing the world’s non-renewable fossil-fuels-based infrastructure, and reducing carbon emissions.
Of these green energy sources only oceans and rivers and the embryonic deep geothermal (hot rocks) sectors have the potential to compete directly with nuclear and coal powered generators for the supply of predictable and baseload electricity, which are by far the largest potential future markets for renewable, ‘green’ energy technologies.
Ocean currents, tides and flowing rivers are predicted to attract billions of dollars of new infrastructure investment in the years to come. The highly reputed UK-based energy industry consulting firm, Douglas Westwood, has projected that the size of future marine energy markets alone will be in the order of US$1 trillion.
Within this newly emerging and rapidly growing industry, EET is well positioned to be the leading tidal energy technology around the globe. The key factors which will affect end-users’ decision to acquire products containing EET’s technology will be installation cost (with the SeaUrchin™ likely to be significantly cheaper to build, install and maintain than competitors) and long-term-operating cost (which will benefit from the simplicity of EET’s design, the use of advanced long-life composite materials and the use of off-the-shelf componentry from leading suppliers).
GT: Could you please give a brief overview of Elemental Energy Technologies?
KL: EET is an unlisted Australian public company formed in November 2007 to hold all existing patents, patent applications, research and proprietary know-how for our elegantly simple and efficient, environmentally-friendly, marine vortex reaction turbine the “SeaUrchin™”. It has been developed to enable the virtually inexhaustible kinetic energy of free-flowing ocean streams, tides and rivers to be harnessed to generate predictable or baseload electricity to satisfy the huge and growing demand worldwide.
EET's Michael Urch (L) with Darren Burrowes (R)
The inventor of the technology and a founding director, Michael Urch, has developed the SeaUrchin turbine technology over the last 6 years.
Michael is EET’s Executive Director - Research and Development. He is joined on EET’s Board by Kim Lyle Executive Chairman, Douglas Hunt –Finance Director, Darren Burrowes Operations Director, Uday Bhende Non-Executive Director, Larry Luo Non-Executive Director, Ken Burnett Non-Executive Director and Robert Lees Company Secretary.
The board has extensive commercial experience in the management of companies at all stages of development and collectively have had high level involvement with over 40 companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) and several international stock exchanges including Hong Kong, Singapore and London.
As a new technology company, EET’s board has primarily focused on the principle that the key to successful commercialisation lies in the timely delivery of a superior product that outperforms all of the current alternatives in the market place today, at the lowest capital, operating, installation and maintenance costs.
GT: What are the primary advantages of tidal power over other energy sources?
KL: The key advantages of tidal and ocean current energy are outlined below:
Reliable and predictable, and suitable for integration into base load grid systems;
One of the world’s largest untapped renewable resources;
Tidal flows are unaffected by climate change;
Less vulnerable to changing weather - operates underwater below the wave and storm region;
Minimal environmental impact with no visual or noise pollution; and
Potential to compete directly with coal and nuclear power generation.
Furthermore, the bulk of the world’s population lives near the ocean, or at least near to flowing water. Also, for the same sized turbines, ocean currents, tides and rivers can generate up to 8 times more power than wind. Tides, currents and river flows are reliable and predictable years in advance.
GT: Tidal Power has not traditionally been as well researched as other renewable energy sources such as wind and solar-why do you think this is, and is this starting to change?
KL: The tidal power sector is a relatively new green energy sector with only a hand full of tidal turbine devices successfully operating cost-effectively in real-world situations. In the same way that the wind industry needed to demonstrate and prove the maintenance and operating cost predictions with at full scale before significant sales occurred, the same scenario applies to the tidal power sector today.
It is anticipated that once 3rd generation devices such as the SeaUrchin are able to be deployed in large numbers in a wide range of conditions, the superior features of the device will attract numerous customers. In this regard, the concept of a “disruptive technology” may apply where the tidal power device (or devices) which can demonstrate superior performance will not only generate considerable sales for their own product but will enhance the attractiveness of the tidal power sector and attract more interest from researchers and other bodies who have traditionally overlooked the sector as it has to date been impossible to cost-effectively harness the enormous power of the tides with cost-effective and reliable devices.
GT: What does the next decade hold for Elemental Energy Technologies? Is there a follow up to the SeaUrchin under construction?
KL: EET’s primary objectives are to maintain minimum overheads, have negligible inventory, outsource all manufacturing and maintain the company’s primary focus on research and development to enhance the value of its intellectual property. Consequently EET operates with relatively few administrative or marketing employees and maintains minimum overheads.
The Company will not seek to build its own large-scale power development sites as a principal.
Outsourced manufacture of the SeaUrchin against firm orders is an option however the preferred strategy is to use a licensed distributor network or to directly sell the technology to energy project developers, utilities and engineering firms with their own existing infrastructures in place.
Marketing activities will primarily be undertaken by distributors in their own territories, with the result that EET will not be required to engage a large administration, marketing and distribution staff of its own.
International defence forces have shown interest in the SeaUrchin™ . A recent visitor group explores the technology.
Product and Development Program
The program philosophy is based on progressively developing a wider range of variants of the SeaUrchin commencing with the 2kW and 10kW micro-scale units suitable for deployment in various and different rivers and tidal estuaries locations to provide electricity for small installations. This program is already well progressed working jointly with KITL, the renewable technology division of the highly respected India based Kirloskar Group. Comprehensive performance and endurance trials of the 2kW turbine commenced in March 2012.
The 1MW SeaUrchin is planned to be deployed in the newly created Tropical Tidal Test Centre (T3C) planned for development in the Clarence Strait in the Northern Territory, Australia in conjunction with a leading University and Tenax Energy Pty Limited, a private developer. Following successful trialling and subject to meeting criteria set by the developer and the local power utility, the SeaUrchin will become a preferred technology for the adjacent Clarence Strait tidal power station with a total potential capacity of up to 450MW.
Research and Development Strategy
EET has pursued an outsource model for its research and development activities. This strategy has allowed the Company’s Research Director and Operations Director to manage highly complex projects relating to the SeaUrchin utilising state-of-the-art expertise and facilities of our external consultants and partners. The effect of this strategy has been to maximise the results achieved whilst managing costs.
EET’s goal is to become the owner of intellectual property rights to the most advanced turbine in the world for use in tidal energy devices. Once the SeaUrchin has been successfully launched, the research and development activities of the company will be focussed on not only enhancements to the SeaUrchin but application of its technology to other applications.
The follow-on product range may comprise further improvements to the SeaUrchin by EET or may involve licensing EET’s technology to others companies for their own tidal devices (applying our turbine to their drivetrain) or could involve use of EET’s technology by other companies in related fields such as underwater thrusters (applying power to the turbine rather than extracting it) or wind turbines (given the similarity of flow characteristics between air and water).
GT: EET has recently been featured in the Australian CleanTech Competition 2012-do you feel enough is being done to promote growing cleantech companies?
KL: The Australian CleanTech Open acknowledgement complements the recent recognition of EET’s technology by Engineers Australia in awarding the SeaUrchin project as the overall winner in its “Excellence in Engineering” awards for 2012. The CleanTech Open highlights the strategic planning and business model which EET will utilise to bring its revolutionary SeaUrchin technology to market to create a profitable long-term business.
This is a key initiative as any business which seeks to make a long-term positive impact to sustainability must itself has a sustainable business model. Also the CleanTech Open is structured to give new start-up businesses access to capital following an intense mentoring and review period to maximise the potential for equity capital to be raised at the critical early stage. This form of recognition and the consequences for companies which are successful is a very valuable initiative.
In addition to the CleanTech Open, we believe that there has been a marked increase in this type of recognition and support for renewable energy technologies. A plethora of solar, wind and most recently wave power projects in Victoria and W.A. highlight the governmental and private sector recognition that a new “green industrial revolution” has begun.
The carbon tax although controversial, further spotlights that we are in a period of tremendous change being affected in the renewables sector.