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Still believing in the vision -- Failure no hindrance to Vortec

A short history of Vortec Energy, the New Zealand promoter of an attempt to realise the possible promise of a diffuser augmented wind turbine. This article covers failed attempts and the company's hopes for the future.

"It didn't work," admits Phillip Wight, referring to the Vortec 7 prototype, installed at Waikaretu in New Zealand in 1996. Wight is business manager at Vortec Energy, the New Zealand promoter of an attempt to realise the possible promise of a diffuser augmented wind turbine. "So what should we do? Do we throw it away or do we find some shareholders who will believe in the vision?" No better proof of the Vortec team's enthusiasm and stubborn persistence lies in the fact that shareholders were found among the ranks of Australian and New Zealand venture capitalists.

The failed first version was built according to the 40-year license agreement between Vortec Energy and the American Northrop Grumman concern, which conducted research into the concept in the 1970s. But the Waikaretu prototype failed to live up to the much hyped Vortec theory that, "Vortec Energy has the potential to revolutionise the wind power industry." The air flow was not, as expected, augmented over the whole surface of the rotor swept area, leaving only the tips of the turbine blades to capture the available energy. "We're now working on a way to achieve that," says Wight.

That work consists of reshaping the "augmenter" profile to induce the desired air flow through the slot around the edge of the circumference. Testing of a modified mini-Vortec has been ongoing at a military airfield near Auckland where a 3.5 kW unit mounted on a flat bed has been dragged up and down the runway in place of wind tunnel testing. According to Wight it looks as if the modifications are successful.

Grand ideas

The next step, he says, is development of a 1 MW version which will be installed at a site in Spain next year. A deal has been done with landowners, referred to by Wight as their "Spanish partners." German wind project developer Unit Energy Europe is also considering trying a 1 MW Vortec in Portugal, says Wight. If these research and demonstration units live up to expectations, a 3.5 MW is next.

If nothing else, Vortec Energy does have grand ideas. "The Vortec technology has been well received in the market place, as demonstrated by 125 MW of strategic projects that are currently under negotiation in Ireland, Spain and United Kingdom," states company literature.

Wight admits the Vortec is not a machine of streamlined elegance. Clearly, he says, it is the offshore market which is the ultimate goal. Meanwhile, there is always distributed generation he enthuses. The 3.5 kW could be sold as part of a package of storage and power management. With its eyes on the potential of the distributed market in the US, Vortec has "established a relationship" with a New Zealand supplier of lithium based technologies, Illion Technology. This company, says Wight, has just opened a Manhattan office and is aiming at a January stock exchange listing.

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