Dr Joss Kesby has spent the past 5 years developing the world's most powerful small wind turbine technology. It wasn’t until 2018 during the CSIRO ON Program that his innovation journey really took off. The resulting Hyland 920 wind turbine has been helping remote energy users save on diesel generation and complement solar PV systems.
We sat down with Joss to learn more about the Diffuse Energy backstory.
I had originally trained as a surveyor and civil engineer and was interested in making my mark in building the big infrastructure projects. After progressing through the ranks and managing various construction projects in the Newcastle coal industry it started to dawn on me that the writing was on the wall with fossil fuels. There had to be a better, safer, and cleaner way of generating our energy.
This led me back to the University of Newcastle to undertake my PhD in wind turbine aerodynamics - a somewhat different direction from my experience as a civil engineer. It took a bit of convincing, but my supervisor agreed to take me on as a PhD candidate. It was during my PhD that I developed the high efficiency technology that underpins our Hyland 920.
Diffuse Energy started as a team in the CSIRO ON Prime program. The CSIRO ON Program is unashamedly focused on getting academic research out of the laboratory and into the real world to create impact. I was looking for ways to create impact from my research, but needed a team to register. During this time I was still working at the University of Newcastle with Dr Sam Evans and James Bradley within the School of Engineering. Together we founded Diffuse Energy as a company in 2018.
At the completion of the CSIRO ON Accelerate 4 program I was fortunate enough to be awarded the Stanford Australia Foundation for showing high “entrepreneurial capacity”. Since 2018, myself and my two co-founders have exited the University of Newcastle, been awarded a Jobs for NSW MVP Grant, completed the ARENA A-Labs program, received investment from a very sharp group of investors and most importantly got our technology into our customers hands.
Yes, we recently raised $400K in seed funds from Shearwater Growth Equity - a fantastic investment fund with a lot of experience in helping successful startups. These funds will be used to cover the employment cost of three full-time staff and to scale Diffuse Energy’s production capabilities to meet the increasing demand for our product.
If we go all the way back to windmills, the technology has been around for a long time indeed! The 1970’s was a period of technological maturity with learnings from NASA and aviation applied to wind turbine design (the 1970’s oil crisis certainly helped push things along). Recent technological breakthroughs have been in offshore wind, increasing the blade span in excess of 100 m, and using lidar to better predict the wind resource and control the turbine.
We operate at the other end of the scale, with our initial product having a diameter of less than a metre. Turbines of this class have seen much less technological development. What sets us apart is the “diffuser” technology which sucks more wind through the rotor. Think of it like putting the inlet of a vacuum cleaner at the back of the turbine. With this technology we can double the output compared to similar sized competitors. While the diffuser improves the efficiency of the turbine, it also makes it safer and more robust, both of which are major considerations for our customers.
We get asked about bird deaths all the time! The fact is that domestic cats, power lines, motor vehicles, and buildings are more likely to contribute to bird deaths than wind turbines, according to a 2019 study by the American Wind Wildlife Institute (AWWI). Our diffuser technology adds a physical, visible barrier around the blades of the turbine and we haven’t had any issues with our turbine killing wildlife.
Noise can be considered an aerodynamic inefficiency. Energy from the wind is being wasted as sound instead of being converted into electricity. Modern efficient wind turbine technology is very quiet, what’s more the addition of our diffuser acts like an aerodynamic muffler.
We’re proud Novocastrians, so naturally all of our technology was designed and engineered in Newcastle, Australia.
Approximately 80% of our turbine is also made in Australia, including the diffuser, nose cone, centrebody, support structure and yaw mechanism; and we assemble the components into the finished product at our workshop in Port Stephens.
The blades, generator, and electrical components are sourced from overseas, unfortunately Australia just isn't competitive for our requirements in this space at the moment. There has been a renewed focus from the Government to bring these advanced manufacturing capabilities back on shore so we are hopeful that we can utilise these capabilities in the future.
Small wind turbines work well in many areas, but successful rooftop applications remain challenging. Studies have shown that the tops of buildings are not suitable for wind turbines in residential areas. The good news is that many small wind systems properly sited in open areas – away from tall trees and other obstacles – are successfully producing cost-effective electricity, and we have big plans to address this market in the future.
I’ve always been passionate about creating the greatest impact - our ideal customers are those whose energy pains are the greatest. Initially we are concentrating on helping businesses with remote and off-grid sites reduce their diesel consumption and diversify from solar PV, with a particular focus on telecommunications providers.
Photo credit: CSIRO ON Program