Michael Evans has been innovating from his earliest working days, mixing design flair with manufacturing know-how.
Now, as CEO and founder of Green-Tide Turbines he must convince the investment community to back cleantech and the rest of the world to take on renewables, fortunately, he has some powerful early allies.
In the simplest terms, global warming. In more practical terms, the issue is not just climate change but human nature. "Humankind isn't going to want to take any steps backwards," says Evans. "So if you want to create any solutions to climate change you're going to have to find a way of generating at least the same amount of energy that we're using currently, probably more, without using fossil fuel.
"We've got solar, wind, run of river (hydro), concentrated hydro, a few things, but all these things are kind of intermittent, dependent on rainfall for rivers, cycles of day and night for solar and wind speed for wind.
"It's unpredictable and demand is what demand is, you want it when you want it, you can't just wait for the wind to blow and say okay, I'll do my washing now, so there's an incompatibility between the generation and supplying people when they want it and that's the issue I was fired up by initially.
"We need to generate base loads (the minimum amount of power required to meet customer demand) from renewable sources reliably", says Evans.
A specially designed turbine that accelerates, regulates and rotates the flow of water by using rotor and stator blades within a duct casing.The GTT technology is distinctive from existing tidal stream devices in that it causes the flowing water to rotate and the device's specially designed turbine then captures the rotational kinetic energy.
By accelerating the water through the device, the amount of power that can be produced per cubic metre is higher than other tidal turbines, while its run-of-river device can harvest energy in rivers whose currents would previously have been deemed to slow moving.
And of course there's the base load issue. "The thing about tidal, is that though they go in a cycle, around the UK for instance they are offset so tidal turbine farms here would complement each other, you would have a base load capacity which is not burning fossil fuel and that, I think, is really important."
Disillusioned by the future of fuel cells - a technology he says is being crippled by the large fluctuations in the price of platinum, a fundamental material for fuel cells - Evans looked for new problems to solve around providing base load from renewables and came up with a solution for energy storage in wind turbines - the power hub.
Following the study of water technology too, he quite literally had a Eureka moment: "I was swishing water around in the bath and I came up with the idea of the turbine. I do most of my inventions in that kind of scenario, not really working but you are in your head."THE OPPORTUNITY
It's not the size of the market that interests Evans, he believes it's vast enough to accommodate several players, it's how much of it you can actually take, how much faster you can access it than your competitors and whether you have the capacity to manufacture.
Well Evans is moving as fast as he can and following a UKTI trip to Brazil he has landed partner that can accelerate GTT right to the front of the industry. "The Petrobas grid is as big as Europe and that's my customer," says Evans
Indeed Brazil is huge, its economy is growing, it's investing in cleantech and GTT is right in the middle. Banco do Brasil has announced plans to raise a £365m private equity fund purely for renewable energies, Banco do Noreste is investing in renewables,
Eletrobras and Petrobras Renewables, quite literally among the world's very largest companies, have pledged to work with GTT on a project that will raise £20m-£30m, which will go straight into R&D while Brazil's National Development Bank has indicated it will step into help once the business is ready to roll.
The UK's large tidal range (the difference between high and low tides) provides a strong local prospect early on while other larger land masses have rivers that come into play - eliminating the need for dams is a big advantage too.
Of course there are also some figures. Following the Carbon Trust's Future Marine Energy report, which predicts UK marine renewables will deliver 7 terawatt hours per year by 2020 and 18 terawatt hours by 2050, GTT estimates there will be around 3200 installed turbines.
Assuming a service life of 10 years, GTT says this means the entire sector would need to be manufacturing 320 turbines per annum by 2045. If GTT manages to land 10 per cent of the UK market and the others in Canada, North America, South Korea and Europe, it calculates revenue of over £100 million a year by 2020.
The main driver for the energy industry is cost of energy according to Evans, irrelevant of the technology used or the fossil fuel processed, it always boils down to the cost of energy, the kilowatt hour.
The struggle to date in the renewables sector he says has been to keep a handle on capital and operating costs (capex and opex) and it is here where GTT stands out.
Evans says competing turbine technologies pay higher capital costs because the devices are larger and fixed solidly to the sea bed, this also makes them more susceptible to debris because there's no give in the structure.
"If you look at our competitors at the moment, they're deploying full scale prototypes in marine environments and the feedback's always the same, blades are breaking off on these hugely expensive structure, so you end up with large capital costs. This also makes them unreliable so your opex costs are quite high."
Not only is GTT's technology cheaper to install - it uses slipways for deployment rather than dockside cranes - but the flexible mooring system and ducts also provide more of a defence for any debris or nets that that.
Turbulence also affects reliability, both natural water turbulence and that created by the upstream turbines which affects the downstream turbines."GTT's stator arrangement puts swill on the water and with the duct, everything is enclosed and controlled, which irons out a lot of the large scale turbulence before it hits our rotor blades."
Further cost-savings come by removing the need for second by second monitoring of the flow rates and use of a DC generation system which means at farm level, connecting up a number of turbines to form a grid is much simpler.
Using its existing cost base, Evans estimates a price of between 11.9 and 17p per kwh (cheaper than offshore wind he says). However, he estimates that price to fall significantly once deployed at scale, coming in at around 4-6p per kwh at scale, "which competes with coal."
GTT will operate a fabless model, passing much of the development costs on to the supply chain partners. "All we really need is an assembly plant, sales and servicing support infrastructure."
Once it has been commissioned to provide a tidal farm - which like the UK wind offshore farms could include many dozen turbines - GTT would position an assembly plant close to the farm site to minimise the distance need to transport the finished turbine, which under current plans would measure around 12 metres in diameter.
The plant would receive all the necessary components for final assembly and once the turbines have been completed, would become the tidal farm's service and maintenance station.
"Our first factory is going to be in Rio and we will be assembling our river turbines at that site. That will also probably be the site for building of our first tidal turbine.
GTT has raised £400,000 to date in angel investment and is now seeking a further £1.1m. Evans says there is a reluctance amongst investors to back cleantech, not just because the technologies are unproven, but there is no track record to speak of in the sector in terms of big exits, the kind of stuff Evans says really excites the investor community.
However, GTT has an unusual offer up its sleeve, invest now and you won't get hammered by the VCs later because when the next £20m-30m comes in it won't be from a VC after equity, but revenues from end customers, one, the fourth largest clean energy company in the world, the other, one of the very largest companies in the world period, Electrobras and Petrobras respectively.
"We have been guaranteed by Brazilian companies that they will spend between £20-30m, which GTT will use for the next stage of product development, this marks us out as being a very different investment proposition.
"It means £1.1m invested now will get GTT to a point where the development is completely funded. There will be a need for further finance but that will probably come from Brazil's National Development Bank to roll out the technology and will be quite close to revenue."
Evans says it is the Brazilian government's desire to back green technologies and its support for GTT that has proven key, with both Petrobras and Electrobras having strong government ties (Electrobras is 52 per cent owned by the government).
This goes for the banking support too, which Evans says has also been at least agreed in principle once it has a commercial product ready for deployment.
Michael Evans - "From day one I've been coming up with ideas for things and getting it through to production and the shop floor, all I've done now is stop doing it for other people and started doing it in things that interest me."
Such as finding answers to global warming. He co-founded CMR Fuel Cells with Michael Priestnall (now of Cambridge Carbon Capture) which listed on AIM with a £50m valuation in 2005 and is now concentrating on Green-Tide Turbines and its tidal and river energy harvesting device, which already has solid multi-million pound interest from Brazil and the US.
Tom Clark - Formerly a consultant at Qinetiq and now conducting a PhD in fluid dynamics at Cambridge University, Clark joined GTT as the full time CTO having been the research associate in Cambridge;s Engineering Department that worked on the project.
Nicola Pearson - Looking after business development.
Evans says ideally he'd want to take the company "all the way to the end," which to him means generating big revenues and massive profits for its investors.
However, there are several other opportunities and he's open to most. Evans says one company is interested in providing the whole £1.1m funding they're pushing for, but is wary of potential conditions such a deal could require, such as first refusal on buying GTT once the technology is proven. "That would seriously undervalue our company on exit so I'm not particularly keen."
The CMR experience hasn't put him off IPOs either, though he'll be better prepared. "What I learnt from CMR experience is you don't IPO to early, we would have to be at revenue stage selling turbines before listing.blog comments powered by Disqus