Tackling windmill icing, Borealis takes top prize at venture funding competition

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As Canada, and many other countries in often inhospitable northerly climates, move to grow wind power generation on an industrial scale, a new problem has emerged: wintertime icing of windmill blades is sapping a considerable level of output — while causing a safety hazard.

“There are 200,000 wind turbines worldwide affected by this problem, which is 65 per cent of the wind market,” said Daniela Roeper, founder of Borealis Wind. “These wind farms are losing about $3 billion annually, $200 million of that is in Canada, and this market is growing at 13 per cent per year.”

Unlike aircraft wings that can be hosed down on the ground to remove ice buildup before takeoff, windmill blades aloft on increasingly tall structures present a larger — and more costly — challenge. In some cases, helicopters have been hired to spray the blades with piping hot water to remove the ice. In other cases, the blades are taken down to install heating systems on the exterior to the blades.

Borealis Wind believes it has come up with a better solution. The start-up developed an in-blade heater, blower and duct system that can heat and circulate hot air throughout the blade to prevent the buildup of ice. Tests have shown the system can heat through the fibreglass of the blade to 7 C. A simple retrofit can reclaim 80 per cent of the power that would otherwise have been lost to icing downtime, said the company, which is currently pilot testing the technology with Enbridge Inc.

The Kitchener, Ont.-based company won the hearts of both the judges and the audience at the Energy New Venture Competition hosted by the University of Calgary’s Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking in Calgary Tuesday.

Ten companies were selected out of almost 100 applicants to present at the annual competition, divided into concept and venture streams. Borealis Wind took the top prize of $25,000 in the venture stream as well as the $1,000 audience choice award.

“What really differentiates our system is that it is simple to install and simple to maintain, which reduces the cost of implementation,” Roeper told the judges. “The entire system can be installed up tower without removing the blades.” Other heating solutions require the blades to be removed for installation. “By not doing this, our system is 10 times cheaper.”

The company is seeking to raise $500,000 by the summer and to have 50 systems installed this year, including 40 with Enbridge. On average, it estimates payback will take three years. The company plans to eventually see that the system is licensed for implementation on new turbines.

And as more wind farms dot the Alberta prairie in the coming years with the phase-out of coal, it is seeking new standards that could make those turbines safer, noted Roeper. “We are also looking at having deicing as a standard because ice throw off of turbines is incredibly dangerous; [there] can be hundreds of kilograms [of] ice chunks that can be thrown hundreds of metres from the turbine itself,” she said.

A full list of winners is on the Daily Oil Bulletin website .

The Energy New Venture Competition, which brings together promising entrepreneurs and venture capital funders, has raised almost $500,000 in cash and in-kind support for start-up companies over the past five years.