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A Publication of WTVP

Timing is a critical variable on the path from innovation to production and implementation.

Energy. Expensive energy. Critically needed energy. It was with creative energies focused on innovative ways to reduce energy costs that EcoThermics Corporation was formed on November 19, 2007. In March 2008, we moved into the Peoria NEXT Innovation Center and set up our initial research lab, and the following May, iBi published an article on the company. Much has changed since then!

More than half of the energy consumed in the world today is simply to heat and cool air and water. When we formed EcoThermics, we realized that carbon dioxide (CO2) was a natural refrigerant which had been in use in various applications for many years—but its use was limited by the technological challenges of the high system pressures (2,000 psi) necessary to make it effective. We believed that we knew a better way to meet those high-pressure requirements. And it was evident that natural refrigerants like CO2 were becoming significantly more popular when compared to the traditional, environmentally toxic, synthetic refrigerants.

From the beginning, we realized our primary purpose would be to develop technologies that can:

  1. Make our homes and workplaces more comfortable;
  2. Reduce energy consumption;
  3. Improve environmental health; and
  4. Enhance economic health (via job creation).

Accomplishments to Date
EcoThermics is focused on the creation of high-pressure, axial piston hydraulic pump technology in compressors for transcritical CO2 heat pump and commercial refrigeration applications. We are really just a small research-and-development group, formed to develop our technology to the point where a much larger commercial entity could recognize its value and take our prototype products into full production for diverse applications around the world. These applications range from commercial, industrial and residential use to the mobile and portable heating and cooling of air and water.

We realized early on that we would need to join forces with a number of existing organizations who could help us make faster progress and more effectively utilize our scarce resources. Accordingly, we have leveraged a number of supportive groups over time, including WaterFurnace International, Alliance Automation, Purdue University, Mennie Machine Company, Regal Beloit, Multistack, Country Maid and INTEGRIS Engineering. We could never have survived this long—or created significant value—without their strong support.

Because our compressors function as critical components of a complete system, we designed, built and installed a commercial heat pump water heater (HPWH)—the EcoThermics Eco2Boost—to demonstrate their value in a typical application: simultaneous heating and cooling. This system has been running in the Country Maid commercial bakery in West Bend, Iowa since 2012, and has demonstrated a payback period of just 30 months via the resulting energy savings. (To download this case study, visit atmo.org/media.presentation.php?id=247.)

Our Current State
Our prototype systems have demonstrated great energy-saving potential in residential, commercial and industrial applications—even versus low-cost natural gas. Specifically, our systems have demonstrated a COP (coefficient of performance) of 7.2, meaning we can deliver 7.2 kW of thermal energy from each 1.0 kW of electrical energy consumed!

End users are now increasingly requesting opportunities to purchase our Eco2Boost HPWH systems. But without sufficient market or regulatory pressure to innovate in the CO2 heat pump market, our anticipated customers (OEM system builders and distributors) are reluctant to invest resources focused on new technologies that may eventually displace their current synthetic refrigerant products and solutions, as well as their current functional (yet archaic) piston compressor products. We are simply too small to independently take even one product (compressor and/or complete system) into full production and quickly achieve the volume levels required to be profitable. In the last two years, we have had extensive discussions with three global manufacturing companies, and each indicated their intent to acquire EcoThermics. However, we could not yet meet their specific expectations for technology readiness, and each ultimately had to back off when their corporate expansion efforts were cancelled due to declining revenues and internal financial pressures (much like Caterpillar, which announced major restructuring and employment reductions in September 2015).

Timing is a critical variable!

Moving to Execution
We all know that creativity, knowledge and sound judgment are critical to developing innovative ideas—but these elements alone are not sufficient. Innovation also requires development, production and implementation of the new ideas, made possible via sufficient capital. The key difference between creativity and innovation is execution: the capacity to turn an idea into a successful new service, process, product or venture.

With strong support from 70 private investors, EcoThermics has accomplished the initial goal: to develop a robust, unique, patented high-pressure compressor architecture that can offer competitive advantages for end users. Now it’s time to focus on production and implementation of this exciting new technology. Accordingly, the next major goal is to join forces with one or more strategic commercial partners that can provide the resources (i.e., funds, engineering, test facilities, marketing, distribution, customer support, etc.) necessary to significantly shorten time to market and to scale.

Many of us personally value free markets and minimal governmental involvement. But over the past 10 years, we have seen phenomenal growth of CO2 systems (primarily cascade and hybrid CO2 commercial refrigeration systems in supermarkets in Europe, and CO2 heat pump water heaters in Japan) replacing toxic, synthetic refrigerants when pushed by market pressures and governmental incentives—much like geothermal, solar or wind power. This could be the right time for similar energy efficiency incentives in the United States. iBi

To learn more about EcoThermics, visit ecothermics.com. Visit peoriamagazines.com/ibi/2009/may to read iBi’s first article on EcoThermics.

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