Anew client setting up shop at the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) could offer a solution to energy conundrums at mines across Northern Ontario.
Sky Vertical, which moved into the Sudbury-based incubator in January, is developing a vertical-axis wind turbine for use in remote areas that have limited access to other energy-generating applications.
Currently in the prototyping and development phase, Sky Vertical is working to make the design as efficient as possible before releasing it to market, said Kyle Loney, Sky Vertical’s president and CEO. “There are about 10 years of research and development into this already to get to this point and what we’re doing is we’re bringing in experts…to maximize the design and work out some of the issues with vertical axis wind turbines that other companies have faced,” Loney said. “We want to hit the market with a very efficient model, so that our clients aren’t having to worry about what their wind profile looks like.”
With vertical-axis wind turbines, blades spin vertically around a horizontal mast. They are preferred for their low noise levels, minimal vibrations due to their low RPM, the ability to use wind from any direction, the ease of installation and maintenance, their durability and the very low impact to wildlife.
Sky Vertical’s turbine is self-starting and begins to move at wind speeds as low as two metres per second; they start generating power at wind speeds of three metres per second.
They can also withstand temperatures well below freezing and operate without a driveshaft or gearbox. “It is quite different,” Loney said. “The concept behind it is that it would pick up wind from every direction, not need a rotating base, be very light, and simple. There aren’t a lot of moving parts; it’s very robust for extreme conditions, whether hot or cold.”
To date, the company has received expressions of interest for the purchase of 13,000 turbines from clients in four countries, an estimated worth of about $250 million.
Sky Vertical has also entered into discussions with other parties with compatible technology on the potential jointventure development of additional turbine products. Loney estimates prototyping will be complete by the end of 2014, at which point the company will start turning those expressions of interest into actual orders. When that happens, the company will be looking to hire between 10 and 25 staff members by the end of this year.
Vertical-access turbines are used primarily in remote areas to provide electricity to communication towers, mines and communities that typically rely on diesel or propane for power generation.
It’s a solution that’s particularly appealing to mines and First Nations that rely on ice roads to get fuel to their communities. Using wind power helps reduce their carbon footprint and save on the overhead associated with the purchase of diesel and generator maintenance.
NORCAT CEO Don Duval said the organization is starting to receive attention from companies like Sky Vertical for the work it’s doing as a regional innovation centre. NORCAT can offer the opportunity to engage with likeminded startups, as well as gain access to the programs and services NORCAT offers, such as mentorship, market research, the use of its testing centre and access to mining industry networks.
“Our relationship with (Sky Vertical) is quite nascent,” Duval said. “We’re learning and understanding what they want to achieve and how they want to get there, and our job is to provide support and access to a whole array of programs, services and resources to help them achieve what they want to achieve and do it as quickly as possible and efficiently as possible.”
Loney said NORCAT’s mining connections in particular are of interest to Sky Vertical.
“There are lots of applications within the mining industry where this turbine can definitely do the same thing that worked for telecommunications clients where we could be lowering carbon footprints as well as lowering overhead by producing power, so the mining industry is definitely going to be a focus of ours,” he said. “Being here in Sudbury and having NORCAT is really going to get our foot in the door.” There is also potential for opportunities for collaboration with Sudbury’s educational institutions, he added.
If the company ramps up its operation to a more significant manufacturing scale, Sudbury’s central location and skilled labour force will be of great benefit to seeing the project get off the ground, Loney said.