In the “Start-up-Check!” series, we regularly examine the business models of start-ups. Who is behind the company? What makes the start-up so special and what can be criticized? Today: a Belgian start-up Turbulent.
Start-ups: That sounds like ingenuity, future technology, new markets. In reality, however, many start-ups unfortunately often become a mixture of an e-commerce idea, haphazard founders and uncertain future prospects.
But there are: pioneers working on big problems and revolutionizing business models. Their search and presentation is the task of the Start-up-Check format. Today: Turbulent from Wilselem, Belgium.
What is Turbulent?
Turbulent no longer hides the turbulence that a typical start-up often has to go through. Turbulent is out of the game and has long since grown up. In this respect, it is no longer a start-up.
Because: The company was founded in 2014 by Jasper Verreydt and Geert Slachmuylders. And yet, the disruptive product the company produces still allows for that classification—almost by definition.
Welcome to this very mature start-up, where Jasper Verreydt oversees the finances as CTO and Geert Slachmuylders with his technical background as CTO and his team takes care of the further development, as we will see, already more than just convincing the product.
Behind it stands the so-called vortex underwater turbine. Because of this, Turbulent develops cost-effective mini-hydroelectric plants that can be installed in almost any flowing water.
The turbine can be operated independently or in a network of several turbines to meet higher energy requirements. The turbines are characterized by an extremely long service life and low maintenance requirements.
What does Turbulent do?
A “turbulent vortex turbine” generates 15 to 70 KW of energy. Installed in a concrete structure, it creates a swirling suction with the current and flow of water, from which energy is finally obtained for the production of electricity. Basically, the company provides three ideal installation scenarios.
It is useful in rivers with waterfalls that have a height difference of at least 1.5 meters to five meters. Turbines can be installed both directly in water and on land – in this case, the construction of a short water bypass is necessary.
The third option is offered by rivers that gradually overcome a height difference of at least eight meters over a distance of 100 meters. The turbine is located on land, while the water is led through the turbine by a longer bypass.
Mini hydroelectric plants with almost unlimited possibilities of use
In this form, Turbulent Hydropower Plants can be installed anywhere in the world in cooperation with local electricity suppliers or local authorities. The collaboration supports end users in keeping energy costs low. To this end, Turbulent offers its clients specific project management.
It consists of a total of four stages and includes a feasibility study as the first step. There, an initial assessment and evaluation of the location is carried out, followed by a cost estimate and a final assessment of the extent to which the project is technically and financially viable.
On this basis, the participants will finally make the final decision whether the project will be implemented or not. Only then is it implemented. It consists of technical design and engineering, in-house production of the turbine and on-site installation – including connection to the power grid – as well as maintenance.
Turbulent: hydroelectric plants with a life of 30 years
The designers assume a system life of 30 years if the maintenance schedule is followed. It is characterized by minimal labor and maintenance costs. The system needs a full three years (!) to go through a complete service interval.
This includes intelligent predictive 24/7 maintenance-capable monitoring based on an IEC-61131-3 controller that continuously monitors system performance via remote maintenance, keeping it at a consistently high level and ensuring uninterrupted power supply to the power grid.
What makes the start-up Turbulent so special?
The peculiarity of the solution lies in the detail of its construction. In addition to standard features such as a fully automatic sluice gate that controls the flow, the different levels of mesh and grids also keep the turbine running smoothly by preventing objects from falling or flowing through. This excludes aquatic creatures such as fish.
The design creates a circulating stream of water, which in turn is characterized by such low water pressure that fish and other aquatic animals can easily swim through. An ecological overall concept is grouped around this technical performance, in which sustainability is clearly at the forefront.
In contrast to the ecologically critical dimensions of conventional hydroelectric power stations, which are often associated with huge reservoirs and gigantic dam walls, the environmental and economic advantages of these miniature power plants are evident in many ways.
No structural interference with the environment and nature
They do not require any structural interventions in nature and the environment, but rather work with them using rivers and canals that already exist but have not yet been used as a source of energy. And they don’t even need a special permit, the website says.
This could be because they do not impede the natural flow of the river or cause artificial dams, while meeting the energy needs of municipalities and villages with a maximum of 500 households. Each turbine supplies a maximum of 560,000 kWh of electricity.
This huge amount of energy is created because flowing water is a constantly available source of energy. In principle, water bodies flow year-round. They are less dependent on weather conditions such as sun or wind.
Are there any points of criticism? Just the good stuff and a little catch
In this form, Turbulent is focused not only on the installation of turbines. Rather, the product convinces with the side effect of developing an ecosystem that preserves biodiversity and at the same time maximizes a positive and sustainable impact on its environment.
On this basis, Turbulent can point to a number of successfully implemented projects around the world. The company’s “Trophycase” is also a testimony to this success, which is well filled with a number of awards and prizes. And the outlook for the future seems bright, regardless of the crisis.
Turbulent’s order books are full
The order books are full. The end of rosy times? Unpredictable. The demand for alternative, renewable energy sources and technologies is too great. Of course, money is always a problem for startups. But even in this respect, the company is in a good position.
Because the mastermind and CEO Walter JR Buydens is pulling the strings in the background. The Doctor of Environmental Science has almost endless experience in hydro management and has worked as a consultant in this field for many years.
In short: He knows what’s important. The two founders, Jasper Verreydt and Geert Slachmuylders, are very happy to often draw on this experience. And it’s no surprise that investors are lining up for the company. The best prerequisites for safe leadership of Turbulent in turbulent times.
The only catch from my point of view: Due to the specific energy source, in my opinion, the company remains limited to public authorities. After all, what private property does a river or even a canal run through? Most end users may not even have private access to the stream.
This basically rules out full commercialization and scaling, although the website also explicitly addresses private households with a small turbine that delivers a maximum of five kW.
And yet: The fact that Turbulent, with its economical solution, can produce electricity anywhere in the world where water flows – without resorting to fossil fuels – essentially opens up the entire world market for the company and its products.