Irish Ingenuity propels a new kind of turbine which could revolutionise the wind energy sector
Sometimes the greatest innovations are found at the intersection of technologies. Such is the case for the origin story of Airsynergy of Granard, county Longford, Ireland and its revolutionary new wind turbine. JOHN PUCCIO takes a closer look at this turbine technology and why it has attracted the interest – and investment – of successful Irish American businessman and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Gerry Ryan.
But, it is not just Ryan who is putting his money and reputation behind Airsynergy’s wind turbine technology. The company has just closed its latest funding round valuing the company at some €40 million ($55 million). In fact, the company has raised €2 million ($2.7 million) from existing and new investors in its fourth funding round. This brings to more than €5 million ($6.8 million) the total amount raised by Airsynergy from its directors and investors from Ireland and abroad in the past five years.
But what exactly has made Airsynergy attractive to investors and how did the story begin?
About six years ago, Jim Smyth (at the time an owner of a residential construction company) was considering buying a wind turbine to help power his own home. Having developed considerable expertise in environmental, construction and air management engineering earlier in his career, he saw how the performance of the products available on the market could be vastly improved. Smyth believed that wind turbines could be designed to be more powerful and efficient by applying many of the techniques he had used in designing air conditioning systems.
Driven by the theory that the augmentation of wind velocity by use of a circular shroud around the rotor blade could result in exponential increases in energy output (compared to the more linear increase that result when relying on rotor blade size alone), Smyth went to work. Soon he developed an initial design for the Enhanced Wind Turbine and founded Airsynergy, a renewable energy product development and licensing company, with his brothers Andrew, Gerard, Peter, David and Adrian Kelly in 2008. While the so-called ‘shroud’ technology is not new, Smyth modified the design which allowed the Airsynergy turbine to succeed where others have failed.
Smyth believed that wind turbines could be designed to be more powerful and efficient by applying many of the techniques he had used in designing air conditioning systems.
“This technology really changes the wind turbine sector because it takes more wind into the system and accelerates the air across the rotor. Our turbines perform much better at lower wind speeds. This means the Airsynergy turbines can work efficiently even in low wind areas and can produce power more cheaply than fossil fuels as we scale up. Simply put, we don’t have to chase the wind to be viable,” says Smyth. “In addition, as we scale the size of the Airsynergy turbine upwards they can create the same power as traditional turbines at 60 per cent of the height.”
According to field test results, Airsynergy’s domestic/small commercial turbine (5kW) actually doubles the power output from a wind turbine for approximately 20 per cent capex. The shrouded enhancement unit (the cowl system in front of the wind turbine) uses the wind to move, redirect and accelerate itself while simultaneously alleviating the pressure build up problem that has blighted previous wind augmentation devices.
Airsynergy’s 5kW turbine is currently undergoing final power performance testing by the DNV GL Group, a leading testing and certification company based in Germany. Interim testing DNV GL results show Airsynergy’s turbine’s superior performance at low wind speeds in comparison with other market leading turbines.
“Our turbine greatly increases the market of economically viable sites for wind turbine installation. We believe we can greatly expand the global geographic footprint of where this technology can be placed. That is a game-changer,” says Smyth. In other words the Airsynergy turbine is suitable even for low wind countries such as Germany and other central European countries.
These achievements have not been lost on the sustainability industry. In 2013, Airsynergy received the Engineers Ireland Technology of the Year Award and is currently a finalist for the Irish Times InterTradeIreland Innovation Awards for 2014.
“I am delighted about the recognition, but our key focus is the delivery of our first products to the market before the end of this year. Our vision for the company is to help shape the future of energy production in the world making the move to wind energy a much easier and cost efficient choice,” says Smyth.
Airsynergy will not manufacture or distribute their turbines, rather they will licence their patented protected products to suitable partners in particular countries and regions. This license will allow them to promote, manufacture, install and maintain the Airsynergy products in global markets.
“The licensing business model allows for a global rollout of our product, by making it available to the entire energy industry and allows us to devote most our energy on where our strengths and passion truly exist, product design and innovation,” explains Smyth.
“We will employ a ‘Partner Friendly’ license strategy in terms of promoting what we do and engaging with current and new market entrants. In this way, we believe we can enhance the value proposition of wind energy to end users, by giving existing market players and new entrants access to our cutting edge technologies,” Smyth adds.
The business model appears to be working. In 2013, Airsynergy entered into an exclusive license agreement in the United States with New York-based Aris Renewables Energy, LLC. Airsynergy has granted Aris a royalty bearing patent license (up to 100 kW) to develop, manufacture and sell wind turbines and wind powered streetlights utilising Airsynergy’s patented enhancement technologies. The license covers the United States and the Caribbean.
“This technology really is a game changer for the sector. While the turbines using this technology are the world’s most powerful they are significantly smaller than traditional turbines and perform much better at lower wind speeds. This means the Airsynergy turbines can work efficiently even in low wind countries extremely cost effectively and, as we upscale, produce power even cheaper than fossil fuels.”
Aris is also acting as an agent for Airsynergy to secure other licensees in South America.
Aris is headed by Irish-American businessman Gerry Ryan, president and CEO of New York-based DGC Capital Contracting Group which he runs with partners Daniel Ahern and Brendan Ahern. DGC has an impressive clients’ list including Donna Karan (DKNY), Alexander McQueen, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Barclay Centre Brooklyn, Sears, Balducci’s Supermarkets, Stop & Shop, Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts – to name a few.
The Tipperary-born businessman, who moved to the US almost 30 years ago, is himself a recognised entrepreneur having won the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2002 and being inducted into the Entrepreneur of the Year Hall of Fame. That same year, he received a second Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for his work with the Fulfilling a Dream Fund which he founded in 1994.
Ryan is a successful businessman who served for four years as Chairman of the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce and continues to serve on the Executive Board and Treasurer of the Mount Vernon Police Foundation since its inception in 2007
The Tipperary-born businessman, who moved to the US almost 30 years ago, is himself a recognised entrepreneur having won the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2002.
He is also well known for founding the Fulfilling a Dream Fund in 1995 which provides scholarship assistance for deserving young people from the Mount Vernon area who are unable to afford college tuition and for serving on the Board of Directors for the Make a Wish Foundation of the Hudson Valley.
Ryan believes so much in the turbine technology that he has invested in Airsynergy and has joined the company’s board, which includes businessman and TV personality Eddie Hobbs as a non-executive director.
He explained: “This technology really is a game changer for the sector. While the turbines using this technology are the world’s most powerful they are significantly smaller than traditional turbines and perform much better at lower wind speeds. This means the Airsynergy turbines can work efficiently even in low wind countries extremely cost effectively and, as we upscale, produce power even cheaper than fossil fuels.”
Ryan’s business partner in Aris is Dan Connors, a seasoned renewable energy entrepreneur who co-founded Aris Wind to introduce new patented wind turbine technology to the US and Caribbean markets. His background includes both technology and management roles across a range of energy technology sectors including Small Wind, Solar PV, Solar Thermal, Fuel Cells, Hydrokinetic Energy and conventional power generation. The first product that Aris will bring to market in 2014 will be a 5kW turbine based on Airsynergy’s patented design.
SO WHAT’S NEXT FOR AIRSYNERGY?
Smyth says the medium (150kW – 450kW) and large wind market (500kW plus) is a key objective of the company. Design of the enhancement unit for larger units has begun but the lead products to market in 2014 will be smaller turbines such as the 5kW turbine and the Airsynergy Streetlight. Component selection for these larger units will form the next phase of the design process and will commence after the products currently in development have completed their respective design phases.
Airsynergy turbines are currently installed on test sites in Ireland.