Dr Ashwath Sundaresan talks to Vortex CEO Perzaan Mehta

May 16, 2024

Pacific Channel’s Ash Sundaresan speaks with Vortex Power Systems CEO, Perzaan Mehta about the global energy challenge, Vortex’s technology, shifting from a technology project to a business and the dynamics of their investor – company relationship.  

Since first finding out about the technology, Ash has been fascinated with the concept that by imitating a natural phenomenon, low-grade waste heat generated from industrial processes could be converted into energy.

“I find Vortex fascinating. I read a lot of sci fi, and when you hear a description like that, you know, the first thing that goes in my head is, oh, this is science fiction. And then you start to unpick the technology and work out that this is replicating nature in a controlled environment.

“Importantly, the problem that they're [Vortex] tackling is the waste heat market. Any industrial process, whether its smelting iron, generating power or pulp and paper mills all use energy and through those processes,there is waste heat that's generated.

Since the company was formed in 2017, Ash has seen Vortex shift from being a technology project to a business. Sitting on the company’s board, Ash has worked with the other directors, Perzaan and the Vortex management team to help guide the company through this transition.

“The shift from being a technology project to a business has required Vortex to engage regulators, do environmental impact assessments, engage potential pilot partners, which they've done, and understand what a future proposed commercial structure would be if we put this on a plant, and how would our customers make money.

“Where [Vortex] is now is the demonstrator will enable them to technically answer two questions. One, will it work? Like can it work in a real-world environment? And then two, can it generate power cost efficiently? Those two questions will ultimately help articulate what is that commercial model that needs to be in place.

Ash explains Pacific Channel’s approach to investing in deep tech companies, which involves more than financial capital.

“Traditionally, people view the relationship as the company and the investor. But once we make an investment, we are invested both financially and mentally.  I think the way the interactions and the engagement happen is that, in Vortex’s case, I'm just an extension of the team.

“When we make an investment, we have two sort of priorities that we need to manage. Firstly we need to make sure we are prudent with our investors’ money and secondly is ensuring the companies have enough funding and capital to actually achieve critical milestones that are genuinely creating value. So being close to the company we can be having more nuanced discussions around risk,value, line of sight on capital etc.

Vortex CEO Perzaan Mehta started out working for Pacific Channel then joined Vortex as CEO as he saw it as an opportunity to pursue his fascination with floating wind turbines and his interest in renewables.

“I've always thought that how renewable technology develops is going to be a key part of the future, and something that I was personally very vested and interested in. I think that explains everything about why Vortex is interesting to me. It is groundbreaking technology – it’s not something that you see or hear every day, and that's what makes it so exciting.

“Seeing is believing, and we really have to be able to show that this works the way we say it can before we'll get the necessary traction that we need to deploy this technology fast. So that's been our key milestone. The challenges have been wide and varied from figuring out how do we take this understanding of thermodynamics and aerodynamics that underpin our technology from a theoretical basis to a fully kitted out design.

“There's been a lot of trust that's been built. Pacific Channel as a partner wants Vortex to succeed. Their support goes beyond just the capital and intellectual support that gets provided. As an example, it's having Ash introduce me to someone he's spoken to who might have good global insight into what we're doing. But it's also knowing that when times get tough, you've got an investor that understands deep tech and all the challenges that come with that, and who is going to stand by you and work with you through that process. I think a lot of that does come down to as what Ash said, ‘consistentcommunication both ways’.

Knowing that the question many people ask is ‘will it work?’, Ash and Perzaan provide their views.

“I'm confident we'll get the vortex up. The amount of science and research that's gone behind this with both Neil and Richard is staggering. They are the world experts in this field so I have faith in the guys. And if anyone can put it up there, it's those two”, said Perzaan.

Ash adds It gives me a level of comfort that you've got two really smart technical founders, and a strong commercial team that have designed this in a way that it's used good, solid engineering principles. I have to admit, it's a little bit of fingers crossed, but having seen the evolution of that team and those designs, I have a lot of conviction that it will turn on and it will work."