Meet the minds accelerating the energy transition – hailing from New Zealand, Vertus Energy’s four co-founders are ready to bring relief to Europe’s energy crises

Sometimes a random encounter is all it takes to change the course of your life. This was certainly true for Uruguayan Santiago de los Reyes and Chilean Danilo Perez who met at a Latin American community networking event in New Zealand.

The two hit it off and together with mechanical engineer Freddy Gonzalez they started working together to bring Danilo’s innovation in energy-efficiency to market.

After years of painstaking research, Danilo had successfully turned his idea into a patented technology that makes anaerobic digestion and fermentation processes more efficient and faster to deliver, ultimately offering better quality renewable biogas energy at lower cost.

Vertus Energy technology unlocks an extra 60% energy from the same waste, and it does it three times faster than the current processes in place, reducing all ongoing costs while increasing both the quantity and quality of biogas processed.

Benjamin Howard later joined the co-founding team, bringing expertise in commercial construction and a plan to help bring Vertus Energy technology to the UK.

“We all converge here in New Zealand as four migrants trying to do some good for the world. We got on pretty well and all have the mindset that we have to do something. It’s not an option to not do anything about the current energy situation that we live in,” says Santiago.

“Essentially, what we are trying to do is to develop a biological platform to make renewable gas more affordable and achievable in this energy transition era.

And with rising energy costs placing increasing financial pressure on consumers and businesses and the REPowerEU strategy aimed at reducing Russian gas imports significantly in 2022 and weaning Europe completely off of Russian energy by 2030 – the pressure is on to fuel the energy transition. Vertus Energy is ready to rise to the occasion.

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What impact does your technology have on the energy industry?

Our technology impacts the biogas industry in two key ways:

BRIO is a small but powerful unit that lives inside the anaerobic digester. BRIO allows AD plants to process three times more waste in the same sized tank while delivering biogas with 60% more energy potential than ever before.

Our second technology, BODA, is carbon sequestration and conversion technology. BODA can either be used to “upgrade” the biogas from AD into Bio-methane or it can capture raw CO and convert it into Renewable Natural Gas. BODA is a strong and powerful unit that eats CO and H to produce Renewable Natural Gas.

Our technology unlocks an extra 60% energy from the same waste, and it does it 3 times faster than the current processes in place.

What challenges have you faced in setting up Vertus Energy?

We were looking to be that infrastructure company that would deliver the full anaerobic digestion plant along with our technology. However, with limited funding and resources, we decided to change our focus to developing a technology that can be implemented into existing anaerobic digestion plants.

New Zealand is quite behind in the anaerobic digestion industry. Hence, one of the challenges we have right now is to develop a way to help regions that don’t currently have a mature biogas industry and to push the biogas industry forward.

Why is biogas a crucial part of the energy transition?

Biogas is the only fuel that can be upgraded and provide a direct drop-in replacement for Natural Gas without having to change any of the current distribution methods. This means that it can be one of the fastest renewable fuels to be implemented within the decade to help us towards net-zero targets and it keeps it affordable for consumers as we transition.

It can be produced from organic waste, which as humanity grows, is only going to increase. Biogas is very versatile. It can be used to produce electricity, heat, upgrade to renewable natural gas, replace many traditional fossil fuels in the transport sector and even provide sustainable aviation fuel from a carbon negative perspective. Its applications are truly endless.

What are the opportunities for expansion for biogas as an alternative energy?

The biggest opportunity for the future for biogas would be to address energy security for communities that do not have reliable access to energy from renewable sources, but have organic waste that could be treated.

Currently biogas is used for a multitude of applications, but the Vertus technology will enable existing plants to deliver more biogas at higher energy quality, resulting in more fossil fuels being displaced. It will enable new plants to be much smaller and still deliver the amazing benefits of waste to energy.

Vertus could power schools, communities, households, restaurants, and the list go on, with energy from their own food waste.

Who are your clients or pilot projects?

Large energy corporations who want to go green

We want to be working with any large corporations who want to decarbonise their energy production, distribution or assist their clients achieving energy security. The likes of Aramco, Shell, Exxon, Engie and those corporations who could really make a wholesale change for good in the fastest time possible.

Existing biogas plants

We are currently working with a multitude of potential partners around the world. We are developing partnerships with some large existing biogas plant builders and owners in Europe to accelerate Europe’s move away from Russian fossil fuel reliance that is currently causing so many issues.

Communities and local partnerships with cities and farmers

We are in partnership with an influential figure in Africa to establish how we deliver energy justice and energy security for communities and regions there. With our current base being New Zealand, we have developed many local partnerships. For example, an inner-city school which has a small educational farm, we now process some of their waste for them to prevent methane emissions.

The gas from our laboratory is going to be used to recharge electric scooters in the city and provide them with off grid power. We are working alongside several farmers who have a waste and renewable energy problem. We are surrounding ourselves with key partners that can help us scale our technology offering and we’re working towards our purpose of energy justice for all.

We want to be an energy innovation hub; we want to collaborate with everyone that wants to make this world a better place.

Can you give me 5 surprising facts about biogas?

1.     The most surprising fact is that it can be a carbon negative energy source and thus aid global cooling.

2.     It comes from a completely natural process that was first identified by the Egyptians nearly 4000 years ago. The first use of biogas in the UK was in 1895 when it powered streetlamps in Exeter from Sewage waste.

3.     It can either create and/or store energy for decades without losing any of its power.

4.     It’s versatile. The energy it produces can be used in a wide variety of cases. From electricity generation through to Sustainable Aviation Fuel.

5.     It solves many societal and environmental problems in one application. It comes from organic waste and delivers high power renewable energy. Interesting fact: there is enough organic waste in Africa to provide the 600 million people that live in Sub-Saharan Africa with renewable electricity for life.

Does your technology work with existing infrastructure?

Yes. In our business model we pay for the installation of our technology into existing infrastructure. It can have a real impact because it can be distributed through already established and well-connected networks.

Biogas and biomethane is an amazing part of the transition because it can utilise the current infrastructure without need of new engines because it can directly replace natural gas.

Why is it important that various alternative energy types are used together?

We could produce enough solar power in summer to power New Zealand throughout the whole year, but there is no storage capacity for that, and gases like hydrogen and biogas could provide an option for easier energy storage capacity and winter supplies.

There’s a reason our energy matrix is so complicated and so intertwined. You have some renewable energies, you have some biofuels, and they all have their inherent best applications and their best delivery methods. And there needs to be that crossover to achieve what we need to achieve in the timeframe that we have available to us.

Scientific data suggests that if we only stick with carbon neutral technologies we have a 50-50% chance of averting climate disaster, essentially. So we have to start focusing on carbon negative fuels, which inherently is anaerobic digestion, and where that waste comes from.

So let’s utilise waste and turn it into a resource and a valuable fuel that stops carbon and stops emissions from reaching the atmosphere. 

What is the most frustrating part of your work?

The thing I’ve struggled with most is getting across and really articulating how vital this type of technology is.

What gets you up in the morning?

Santiago: “What gets me out of bed every morning is that I’m sure that I’m going to get a new email in my inbox saying, “Yes, I’m really interested in what you’re saying, let’s have a chat.”

Benjamin: “As a team, we all come from different backgrounds and different cultures but we all have our own individual purposes that the company really feeds into, and I think as we grow and scale it will allow each of us to realise those personal purposes within Vertus Energy as part of the bigger purpose. We live at the bottom of the world, and we work with people everywhere in this planet.”

What difference do you hope Vertus Energy to have made in 10 years’ time?

I think the biggest difference is to have realised that change with decentralised energy networks that have brought the biogas and renewable gas industry to where it can be and where it needs to be to provide what the world needs.

Do you have a favourite quote or motto?

Santiago: I’ve been reading Atomic Habits the last few months and everyday do 1% more is something that is on my mind very strong right now. And that is what I’m trying to do in the lab, in the office, and in every relationship that I’m building with other people – everyday is 1% more.

Benjamin: ‘Sola Virtus Invicta’, which means courage is invincible.

As a team we’re already delivering on that, delivering a brand-new technology and gaining funding for the first time and everything that we went through last year. I personally feel that kind of epitomises what we’re doing at Vertus Energy and that’s what keeps us moving forward and making those big, courageous decisions to take those steps forward.

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Skyfri’s technology offers solar plant cost savings of 20-30% and is making solar a go-to alternative asset class

Together with co-founders Aslan Shamsutdin, Murshid M. Ali and Petter S. Berge, Pratik Ghoshal, CEO and Co-founder of Skyfri Technologies developed technology which could streamline and automate solar asset operations to make solar power cheaper and solar capital investment significantly more sustainable.
Skyfri’s technology targeted a genuine market pain point and within just a few months of launching, company growth soared by 500%. And with Skyfri’s solar asset management solution offering immediate savings of operating heads by 20-30% for power plants that were previously manually managed, their skyrocketing growth is hardly a surprise.
Backed by climate investors SpeedInvest, Singularity and Link Venture, Skyfri manages about 185 sites worldwide and is dramatically accelerating growth through targeted acquisitions.
Pratik says there was a strong element of right place, right time serendipity to Skyfri’s growth: the solar market was in desperate need of a better management solution, to a point where money and investors may have started to flow out of the space if more efficient ways of operating weren’t found.
But the most important component of Skyfri’s success, he says, was not the market or the service or technology they provide – it was the people behind the name.
“What’s the most important thing I’ve seen in my journey as an entrepreneur?
“It’s that your team is your biggest asset.
“Most of the time you fail as an entrepreneur because you just don’t have likeminded people. You don’t have people who you can depend on. Because you alone can’t be a one man army.
“For me, having a co-founding team, not just a co-founder, was the key for Skyfri.
“I do my 10% of the work, they their 90% of the work and we all do it together. If we hadn’t found that team, we probably wouldn’t be here,” says Pratik.
To launch and build Skyfri just before the pandemic shook the world, the co-founding team had to take a leap of faith; “we started recruiting people to work remote, that’s how we grew. It was six months before I even met my co-founders in person – by then we had already raised funds.”
His motto? “The entrepreneur’s job is to make the receptionist rich.”
In this Green Techpreneur interview, Pratik talks all things growth, solar and team-building.
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Where did the idea behind Skyfri come from?

My co-founders were all serial entrepreneurs in Oslo, Norway. We’ve known each other since almost five years now – since 2017 when I was working as Head of Global Sales in a manufacturing company in Munich. They wanted to develop a solar project. I went my way and became a global asset manager in London, but we always kept in touch and thought we could one day do something together.
And incidentally, we found we were all facing similar issues. In 2020, we started connecting with each other; we had these solar power plants that didn’t work. We didn’t know what was happening, it was like a black box that we didn’t understand and our investment was at risk. So we decided to do something about it and we had a breakthrough from a technological point of view and that’s how Skyfri was born.

What are key elements to working together successfully as co-founders?

The most important thing is, you all share a common vision, you all have the same pain points, and you all are frustrated with the status quo. You have to be frustrated with the status quo to start something new. There’s no way the world moves ahead with incremental changes, you have to change things overnight, or at least have the ambition to change things.

Skyfri Co-founders

What does your technology do?

We wanted to make solar plant management more systemized, we wanted to modernise it with automation. We target and transform three key underperformance areas:

We identify energy losses in real-time

When reporting happens on the asset management, you get a report after a month or a quarter and you suddenly realise that some of your plants didn’t work. Something burnt out and needed replacement and by the time you know you already lost revenue and need to spend more to fix the issues. So we wanted to know exactly when things fail, or even futuristically predict when they might finish or start showing signs of underperformance. That’s real-time management.

We break the silos

We wanted to fundamentally change the system of operations, accounting and monitoring as siloed systems to have this be a single source of truth in a single integrated platform.

We do all of this autonomously

The algorithm runs on machine learning, deep learning setup, and it monitors solar plants and does things automatically that previously needed a 20–30 member team depending on portfolio size. So the final value proposition to the investor goes back in the form of increased rate of return.

What’s your knock-on impact on the solar industry?

20 years ago it cost 5 million Euros to build one megawatt of solar power – now that figure is just 0.5 million Euros per megawatt: because of the immense drop in capital expenditure, it has already become a mainstream class asset but what would have derailed its potential is the lack of management of the solar power plants – and that’s where we come in. We are seeing an increased amount of investment and we want to not only sustain that money, we want more to come in to reduce global warming.

If we had not done it, we probably would see the capital drain out of renewable energy investments.

What is it about entrepreneurship that gives you that kick, and makes you go ‘yes, this is what I want to do!’?

You of course have your freedom of thought, everyone has it in a free world. But the freedom of execution to channel the energy that you have without having to stick to a frame structure which already exists is what’s most interesting.
And the second thing is, at the beginning of entrepreneurship, there’s a lot of energy and that’s what makes you get up in the morning, and like my wife says, I’m less of a thinker than a doer. I like to do things, so there’s no better avenue than entrepreneurship.

Can you describe your entrepreneurial journey in three words?

Extremely busy, very interesting, very scary

What’s the scariest part about being a climatetech entrepreneur?

The scariest part is, ‘what if the team doesn’t feel the same way tomorrow?’
I’m not worried about the market, because it’s clear, the market is there, but I want the team to be equally passionate and what if tomorrow we wake up and start to see a lot of disconnect in the team? That’s the scary part. To keep everyone motivated in the team – that’s our biggest asset by far – I cannot overstate this.

The team has to stick together. Family is a cliche, but it’s a common vision, common mission that the team has to always feel, to always want to stay ahead of the curve by asking the most critical and even unpleasant questions – this is the motivation I want to see everyday in my team.

How do you create that team spirit?

We dislike the idea that there’s a value statement – because no one reads them – and the values may change over time.

What we think is there’s one value that doesn’t change and that is a sense of care. Care for each other, care for the people with whom you spend 85% of your waking time with.

And that care automatically translates into care for your customer. If you care for the customer and stand by them when they need help the most, that’s when you create lifelong loyalty.
And you can’t write it on the wall, so someone reads it and says; ‘I’ll be caring, I’ll be caring, I’ll be caring.’ It has to be your natural self, so he or she sees that care happening in the company all the time.

In the face of climate chaos, what gives you hope for the future?

I give a lot of credit to the youth of today. You have Greta Thunberg and she has inspired a whole generation of youth. They don’t have the data points, but they just get it with the snap of a finger, that this is not sustainable, this is not how they want to live. That’s the movement that is happening in front of the line.
The second credit goes to the community of scientists that have been working tirelessly to prove beyond shadow of doubt that climate change is happening and we should do something about it.

If you could teleport yourself into your future, where would you be?

The company Skyfri would still be creating a lot of value as one of the most trusted and dependable in the internet enabled space. We will try to win the solar world and we’ll play a role in virtual power plants, the smart grid, anything that is on the supply side.
I don’t know what management capacity I’ll be in 10 years from now, because it’s nice to make room for the next generation to manage the company and we as co-founders step down at some point in time. I believe in that. But I want to be involved with everything that has to do with encouraging a sustainable lifestyle.
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