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Meet Devon McIntosh of Sonsight Wind in Lawrenceville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Devon McIntosh.

Devon, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
For almost as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in understanding the physical world. I was drawn to engineering and physics and ended up with degrees in both and particularly a Ph.D. physics. After that there was still so much to understand so I ended up teaching and doing a postdoc in physics at Howard University for a few years, and then working as a government scientist with DOD. A lot of the work I did was interesting, but along the way I started my own company because I needed to find a way to use my work to more positively and directly affect people’s lives – particularly those who might most need it.

Sonsight Wind (the DBA for Sonsight Inc) was founded as a vehicle to apply research in electromagnetic interactions to problems related to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Supported in part by research grants, initial work revolved around thermal radiation transfer in scattering media for improving lighting efficiency, resulting in two patents. Later we consulted on ultrasonic wave scattering for steel weld nondestructive evaluation and on novel incandescent illumination for movie lighting. Subsequently, with an interest for improving small wind turbine cost effectiveness, we developed an advanced light-weight low-rpm generator for direct drive turbines resulting in a patented design, and then began developing the rest of the turbine. The first test turbine was installed in 2013, which incorporated an earlier version of the generator. That turbine was replaced by an improved prototype in 2015, and then a further improved replacement in 2016. The DBA, Sonsight Wind was adopted in 2015 to reflect the focus on small wind. We are a small company of three people in Lawrenceville.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road has been anything but easy. My training and prior work had been theoretical physics and mathematical modeling, which prepared me well for some aspects of the work in my company, but not for the very practical experimental, fabrication, and measurement type tasks that I had never been particularly fond of, but were now fundamentally necessary. However, the most exciting thing, which was why I started the company, was the very motivational goal of creating something I believed to be very much worth my time.

One of the toughest experiences I had was in coming to the realization that my work with selective emitters had no future in general lighting. The work involved developing a special high temperature ceramic oxide filament with engineered microstructure that provided high optical scattering. This together with the selective spectral optical absorptivity of the filaments provided a patented method of shifting a large portion of the spectral radiation from the infrared into the visible. The problem is that the microstructure did not last long at the high incandescent temperatures and there was nothing I could do to change that. After investing so much time, hope and energy, coming to the realization that I had to abandon the approach was traumatic.

Other obstacles and hurdles include wearing so many hats and having to continually switch from one sub-discipline to another. Also, things always seem to take a lot longer than I think, and many times are harder and more detailed than I think. The adage about innovation being 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration is right. The bright side of this is that it’s the 10% that drives the 90% and gives you the confidence to keep going in spite of the setbacks.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We want to make clean electric power more cost effective and accessible, particularly for those who can least afford it or have less access to it. Small wind turbines can be installed at the point of use and there is significant potential for increasing energy while decreasing cost. We are currently testing a 3kW turbine that produces energy akin to a 5kW turbine in most wind areas with a levelized cost of energy that is often less than that of rooftop solar.

We developed a novel low rpm generator and built a high-energy, long-blade, low-rpm, low thrust turbine around it. The most practical way to generate greater energy and improve turbine cost effectiveness is to increase turbine swept area, which means increasing blade length, which requires lower RPM, and therefore typically requires generators of significantly greater cost and mass.

Our patented generator achieves 3kW at 160 RPM (vs. typically 300 RPM) with no extra mass or cost. We combine this with a patent pending overspeed control system that accurately maintain low RPM and shuts down the turbine in high winds. Additionally, the Low RPM or NO RPM operation greatly lengthens turbine life and dependability since stress forces from the wind increase rapidly with wind speed. And since these forces are transferred to both tower and foundation, we save money on these as well since the forces are much less. With its relatively low mass, cost, and thrust, and high energy generation from the long blades, the 3kW turbine, tower, foundation and installation costs are akin to a 2.5kW turbine while producing energy like a 5kW turbine. The result is much lower LCOE. Low RPM also means a new level of quiet since blade noise is proportional to the 5th power of blade tip speed.

In addition to the wind turbine application, there is interest in applying the generator to micro-hydroelectric generation, and it is now being investigated by an organization in Florida for that purpose.

We are extremely thankful to USDA-NIFA for SBIR grants supporting our work and allowing us to reach this far. Additionally, we very much appreciate the upcoming NREL Competitiveness Improvement Project (CIP) grant for prototype turbine testing at Appalachian State University.

Towards the end of the new NREL funded prototype testing project we expect to finally be able to introduce the turbine to the market as being available for sale along with price and third-party verified performance Specs.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
We moved here from the DC area about 2.5 years ago and was surprised to find the wide range of offerings. On one hand it’s as diverse, cosmopolitan and sophisticated and most anywhere. There are also commercial and entrepreneurial ventures of all types and sizes. And additionally, particularly for a company like mine, there is an industrial base with suppliers and vendors that provide timely component sourcing and fabrication when needed.

On the other hand, we are located in Gwinnett county and the thing I miss most are bike paths for road bikes. Further, if I were inclined to ride on the roads, I don’t see where there is much provision for doing that safely.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 500 Pike Park Dr.,
    Suite B
    Lawrenceville, GA 30046
  • Website: www.sonsightwind.com
  • Phone: 301-744-8808
  • Email: devon@sonsightwind.com
  • Instagram: Sonsight Wind
  • Facebook: Sonsight Wind
  • Twitter: Sonsight Wind
  • Yelp: Sonsight Wind
  • Other: Sonsight Wind

Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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