How building an outdoor ice rink led to a new way to produce cheap, clean power
So manyinnovative ideas begin withinventors observing simple events. Take Newton’s falling apple, for example, or Archimedes’ overflowing bathtub.
ForEmilUreel of West Michigan, it was building an ice rink in his backyard— or rather designing arefrigeration system tokeep it from melting.
“I thermodynamically ended up producing a chiller system from a used centralair unit,”Ureelsaid. “Going through theprocess,I learned something related to thermodynamics that’s referred to as saturationvapor pressure.”
The principle suggests that there is a relationship between the temperature of a gas and the pressure itexerts on its container.
Ureelnoticed thatthe pressure the propaneput on his gastankrose from80 psi on a cold winter day to 220 psi on a warm summer day.
He alsonoticedthat the needlein the gauge wasdoing work, even thoughit wassmall,as itmovedthe 140psias the temperature changed.Itwas producing power.
“That led me down the path of producing several prototypes where the purpose was to figure out how to make a bigger needle that could actually do some real work and produce, some real power,”Ureelsaid.
He started buildingprototypes as small as 2 feet by 2 feet, eventually leaving his job as anelectricalengineer tobuild a device hecallsaSynerginein January and starting his own company called Synergy Power, LLC.
“If you supplyitwith warm water on one side and coolwater on other, ituses the temperature difference and produces direct torque,”Ureelsaid.
About the size of a kitchen table and weighing in at 500 pounds, theSynerginecan beusedtorun household appliances like a coffee maker or refrigerator, or even houses in rural areas of the county where he says wind and solar power doesn’t work as well.
“A lot of times these people are remote enough that the expense for the utility to come out and run power linesto their home is very expensive,”Ureelsaid.
But he wants to go even bigger, building aSynergineas large as 50,000 pounds.
“There is literally billions of BTUs of heat thatis going out into the environment that couldbeharvestedwith this technology on a much larger scalethat could beused to produce emission-freepower for tens of thousands of homes, andit wouldn’t take up acres of space for solarand wind farms,” saidUreel.
With his first private investor acquired this spring, he’s on his way to exploring what he considers a “ahuge revenue of energythat hasn’t been tapped into.”
The Next Ideais Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.
Copyright 2021 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.