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“We too are (wind)powering aviation!”

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05.03.2018Standortpiloten

Jörg Spitzner, CEO of Spitzner Engineers in the "Standortpiloten"-portrait.

29th December, 2015. The date is written on a piece of paper stuck to the ceiling in the Spitzner Engineers offices on Hein-Sass-Stieg. "This is where the champagne cork hit the ceiling when the first bank transfer from our investor cleared," explains Joerg Spitzner. He is proud of this unusual bit of labelling. "My wife and I were sitting around the table with the investor and the bank phoned to confirm that payment had been received. When you build a family company without capital, in the same way, you never forget those moments where you are sitting together at the table and thinking about whether or not you sell the house. As such, this deal was a real milestone for us," the 60-year-old recalls. The investment back then was in the patent for an aerodynamic rotor blade. The blade design is now turning in four German wind parks and in various facilities in Asia. And the Spitzner Engineers office in Finkenwerder, Hamburg, has not been standing still either. Joerg Spitzner now leads a team of almost 20 employees and has also established subsidiary companies "Best Blades", "ADIOS", and, hot off the press, "clean energy one".

The person behind the innovation

Spitzner Engineers is the base for developing ideas in collaboration with companies and universities in the metropolitan region. It matters a lot to the Hamburg-born founder that the company names includes the word "Engineers" and not "Engineering". It is the engineers, the people and their skills and talents, that give birth to innovation. Best Blades was spun off thanks to the success of the core product, the aerodynamic rotor blades. Spitzner himself only holds a few shares here. The "Anti and De-Ice Operating System", ADIOS for short, is built around a globally unique patent for de-icing rotor blades, currently being tested in wind parks in Canada. Roads had to be cut through the snow-covered wilderness for his employees there. They regularly send him videos shot on their mobile phones, showing the adventurous journey to wintry Greenwich, with a backing track from AC/DC, one of Spitzner's favourite bands.

A small step to wind power

But what, actually, do rotor blades in Canada have to do with Hamburg as a center of aviation? As a matter of fact, a lot! Spitzner's innovations in the field of renewable energy would have been unimaginable were it not for his many years of experience in aerospace. "As an aerospace engineer, one is always well informed about aerodynamics, and the rotor blade is the aerodynamic heart of a wind power system," he explains. "The better the rotor blade, the more wind you can harvest. So if you have some understanding of structural design and wing construction, it's just a small step to wind power."

The patented "best blade" rotor blade does in fact look something like an aircraft wing. The secret, apart from aerodynamic improvements, is in the so-called boundary layer control. The blade has a specific perforation at the stem, which draws in air from the surface like a vacuum cleaner, feeding the air through the interior of the rotor blade and then releasing it again at the end. The innovative stem, combined with a winglet at the end of the blade, reduces wake vortex and captures the maximum of wind current.  "We know how to do winglets, so of course the rotor blade has one," explains Spitzner. Boundary layer control, using special holes in the surface of structural components, was tested on an A320 rudder as long ago as the end of the 1990s. The "wing heating" principles of the Boeing 787 served as a model to inspire the rotor blade de-icing.

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Cross-clustering in action

Even today, aerospace remains a core business area for the small company, in which all five of Spitzner's children have a stake. Spitzner Senio, himself a development engineer, worked at Airbus for 20 years before starting out on his own. The bold step, he says, was driven by a desire for variety and new challenges. Today, Spitzner Engineers have direct supplier status with Airbus, working together with CTC Stade, for example, in the field of composites and structural design. A majority of the company's customers are based at ZAL, where Spitzner Engineers has also rented rooms. "Bringing our climate ideas back to aerospace is something people here are keen to hear about, especially in the growing research field of electric flying," says a delighted Spitzner.

"Cross-clustering in action" is what Spitzner calls this leap between industries, and he benefits from the collaboration between multiple networks here in the city and region. The Renewable Energies Cluster honoured the innovative rotor blade with the German Renewable Award for "Project of the Year" in 2013. He got to know the zweigrad design agency through the Hamburg Aviation network, and is currently working together with the agency in the field of energy harvesting.

Descendant of a family of mariners, he enjoys leisure time on the water as a counterbalance to his work with wind and aerospace. A passionate yachtsman with a love for the Elbe and the Baltic Sea, the grandfather of seven has turned to motor boats as a favour to his wife. He points out, though, that this hobby does not have the best ecological footprint, despite bio fuels; here, too, though Spitzner has some ideas. There have been ideas for producing fuel from CO2 and water for some time now. This much can be revealed: Spitzner wants to focus on this field with his clean energy one company, and he is currently looking for investors.

Maybe there will soon be a few more notes stuck to the ceiling at Hein-Sass-Stieg.

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