The FloDesign, Inc. was recently awarded $3 million in grants from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to expand its operations, including the creation of a product development center and the continued operations of its aerodynamic research center. We talked with FloDesign founder Stanley Kowalski III, about the company’s wind turbine technology, clean energy and the types of jobs that this new industry will create.
Why do you think the wind turbine industry is a good field for technical students to consider as they’re looking toward their careers?
Right now, wind is the lowest cost renewable resource. There’s nothing more rewarding than going into a job that will have a social impact, a job in which you’re actually going to be “doing good.” And green tech has that right now. If we can wean ourselves away from fossil fuels, we really can save the planet. And all of these things make you feel better and give you more purpose.
The FloDesign wind turbines are based on jet engine technology. Can you explain how this is distinct from other wind turbine technology?
Our technology is called a “shrouded turbine” and it’s totally different from [existing wind turbines]. Most wind turbines you see today have three blades and look like a propeller on an airplane. Our turbine, on the other hand, looks just like a jet engine. That’s because our engineers and scientists come from aerospace backgrounds and we’re applying aerospace and propulsion principles to wind power. [Shrouded turbines are built around a fan surrounded by a "shroud." As a result, wind flows through the fan and around the outside of the shroud creating an air mixture at the back of the turbine that pulls air through more quickly.]
But, what’s noticably different about our technology is that these turbines are about half the size of other wind turbines — but produce the same amount of power. And because the rotors are half the size of traditional turbines — and the towers are half as tall — these turbines can be used in a variety of different environments and places where the much larger turbines wouldn’t fit, for example, in cities and at airports.
You’ve referred to this as “disruptive technology.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
It refers to using an old idea in a new way. If you look back through time, there has always been a place for disruptive technology. For example, think about ice. There was a time when ice was produced by carving up lakes and transporting ice blocks by horse and buggy. Then refrigeration came along and the whole ice industry changed drastically. A more recent example would be the [photo] film industry. Remember when digital cameras first came to market, how rapidly the film industry declined? These are both examples of disruptive technologies. In the case of FloDesign, we took a mature technology used in propulsion systems, called the mix rejecter, a means of pumping air on the back of a jet engine, and placed it on a new object — the wind turbine. The result was better performance and potentially lower cost
FloDesign’s new research and development operation is expected to create 150 new jobs. Can you tell us more about the types of jobs that will be created?
Like the automotive industry, there will be many different facets of the operation that have to come together in order for this project to fully come to fruition. For example, there’s the manufacturing itself — how will we actually build these? Then we will be developing ancillary products like a shipping container. So everything from the design down to the actual installation of the device, will create job opportunities. So, when I talk about design, that will involve scientists and engineers. When we talk about the execution of that design, we will need people with CAD [computer assisted design] skills.
Can you talk more about these skills?
When we talk about CAD, we’re talking about computer-aided tools that can be used either for drafting or for design.
For us, we’re building small prototypes of our actual wind turbine. And we’re using a science known as similitude, which means we can test it in small scale. Imagine if you had to build the whole thing before you could see how it worked — you can’t do that. You have to test on a small scale before you can go to large scale. And that’s what rapid prototyping does — it gives you rapid, quick tests. I can test 37 iterations of my wind turbine, at a cost of maybe $5,000 and know what the performance would be for that first turbine that will cost $2 million [to actually produce.] I think CAD is one of the most powerful tools you can have [as a technician.]
What other advice would you give today’s students?
Well, I would say that internships can be valuable. Our company currently has five or six employees [who started as interns] and it was a great process — the students got a taste of the real world, and we got to know them [and their abilities.] It was sort of a dating period.
I would also say that I think for students who are just graduating and considering their employment options, entry level positions at small companies provide you with the opportunity to be part of something that could be enormous. Of course, I’m biased, but I think that many of today’s opportunities in America really lie in small companies and start-ups.