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Harnessing Heat A Cool Idea

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Goal for reXorce Thermionics: use wasted warmth for energy

Provided by Akron Beacon Journal
Written by Paula Schleis

''Harvesters of heat'' is how Phil Brennan describes his company, reXorce Thermionics.

But collecting wasted heat is only half of what the company's Thermafficient thermal engine seeks to do.

The other half turns that heat into usable electricity — and that's generating a lot of interest in a world desperate for renewable energy sources.

Investors, business partners and potential customers are all awaiting a demonstration of the engine, which is expected to be tested in steel mills, data centers and breweries early next year, Brennan said.

The engine has its roots in a heat pump NASA developed to cool spacecraft.

Brennan's partner, Michael Gurin, invented a process for converting the enormous pressure built up in the pump into mechanical energy. That energy is then turned into electricity, which can be used to cool buildings or heat water.

The engine can also feed on low-temperature heat sources, such as solar heat collected from panels, waste heat generated by industrial operations, and geo-thermal heat emanating from the ground.

The beauty of the clean engine is that it's tapping an energy source that is largely ignored.

For instance, server farms — clusters of computer servers — generate an enormous amount of heat. Not only is that heat released into the air, the server farms must consume more energy to cool themselves.

A thermal engine, however, would recover the waste heat and turn it into cooling power.

''This is about as green as it gets,'' Brennan said.

ReXorce recently partnered with the chemicals giant BASF to create fluids to be used in the system, and Cleveland manufacturer Parker Hannifin Corp. is creating components for the generator. Last year, the company landed nearly $2 million in financing from Northeast Ohio's business accelerator JumpStart and other venture firms.

ReXorce could have been located anywhere in the country — Gurin is from Chicago — but it landed in Ohio because of ''a real commitment from the broader economic development community,'' Brennan said.

He noted JumpStart's investment, the state's Third Frontier funding program and Akron's award-winning business accelerator.

Together, ''it justified us being in Ohio,'' Brennan said.