What or who influenced your career choice to be an engineer?
I've always been drawn to designing and building things, as a child, this largely culminated in Technic Lego. I was lucky enough to have parents who were both technically minded as well as being hands on DIY everything, so grew up always surrounded by things being made.
You are a senior mechanical engineer at the University of Newcastle. What is your role?
My role is a really interesting one. I assist both students and academics design and build the things they need for their research. This means that I need to have a pretty broad knowledge and be able to quickly learn new things as required. This keeps it always interesting as there is a very broad range of research that happens in engineering.
Why and when did you found Diffuse Energy?
Diffuse Energy was formally founded early in 2018 by me, Joss Kesby and Samuel Evans. This was done during our time in CSIRO's ON Accelerate program which is what really got us off to such a great start.
How long did it take you to develop a prototype for your small wind turbine?
The way the turbine is designed to get the optimum efficiency was the product of Joss' PhD research of about 4 years. I got involved in late 2016 helping him design the original prototype ready for wind tunnel testing at the University. There has been ongoing development since then and we are now weeks away from our first commercial trial with a manufacture ready turbine.
How is it unique?
Our turbine has a aero foil shaped shroud around it called a diffuser. This improves the turbines performance in several ways. This idea has been around since the 60's however there are some very complicated aerodynamics that have made them very difficult to design well. Joss's research allows us to correctly optimise the design.
You have promoted it as the most efficient in the world - on what grounds?
We can't find another commercially available turbine that matches it. In some cases our turbine is twice as efficient. This means that you can have a smaller turbine for a similar output
We can't find another commercially available turbine that matches it. In some cases our turbine is twice as efficient.James Bradley
Where are the global markets you are hoping to tap?
There is definitely a global application for our technology. To date we have been to South-East Asia as well as a recent trip to India to better understand the market opportunities. Mid year Joss will be going to America to attend the Stanford business school and will spend some time digging in to the market there. It most definitely helps actually going to these markets to better understand them. Our long-term vision is that having a wind turbine in a windy place is as normal as putting solar panels on your roof in a sunny place.
What are the benefits and limitations of wind energy?
Wind energy is quite complimentary to solar power as they often operate at different times. This means for off grid systems batteries can be smaller and for grid connected systems it gap fills the normal solar cycle.
Performance of wind turbines is site specific, so are not appropriate everywhere.
Does the industry have enough support from business and government in Australia?
Despite some of the rhetoric, there is quite a lot of support for new and emerging business especially technology based from both a federal and state level. Interestingly, there are several Hunter based renewable startups doing some really amazing work. Australia is poised to set the scene for renewable uptake as we have some unique challenges due to us being an island nation without backup connection to a neighbour. Although a huge challenge for us I believe it is a bigger opportunity for us to be world leaders.
You recently visited 40 companies in four Indian cities under the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship. What resonated for you from a business perspective?
India is an amazing country that has achieved some great things though also has some big challenges. Building relationships is a huge part of business in India so it will take time and patience. Their startup culture is well ahead of ours in terms of nurturing and development. Every number is huge and hard to get your head around. You will most likely need to have an Indian version of your product or versions as India is so diverse.
You are now developing an "India entry strategy" for Diffuse. How will you use it?
We are currently building several relationships with a number Indian businesses advisory groups and some government agencies. The NSW Department of Industry has some fantastic people in India to facilitate as well.
What are your aspirations for Diffuse in the next two years?
We will have both our turbines on the market, the second larger one will start development later this year using the learning from our current machine. We will have domestic sales and be in the SE Asian and Indian markets. We'll be looking for opportunities in America and Europe.