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Hot Commodity

Saturday, November 01, 2008

reXorce Thermionics is making waves — heat waves, that is — with a technology that converts waste heat to usable energy.

Provided by Inside Business Magazine
Written by Christopher Johnson

Some people want to change the world in big, bold ways. Look at icons such as Bono, Bill Gates and, depending on whose side you’re on, Obama or McCain. But Michael Gurin and Philip Brennan, founders of reXorce Thermionics Inc. (pronounced “resource”) in Akron, wanted to do it a little more inconspicuously.

“We want to contribute something important to the planet,” says Gurin. “But neither one of our personal goals is to become highly visible people throughout the world.”

But creating a new way to harvest heat for reuse in today’s energy-conscious, green-centric world is hardly a thing to keep under wraps. Since April 2007, reXorce’s CEO, Gurin, and COO, Brennan, have been providing innovative solutions to today’s energy challenges through the Thermafficient thermal engine, a system developed by Gurin to recover energy from a range of sources and transform it into usable electricity, cooling and heating.

Essentially, reXorce’s thermal engine captures heat from producers such as industrial waste heat, solar-thermal or geothermal sources, and it uses that heat to create high pressure that passes over a turbinelike device to generate power. The applications for the system are numerous — from factories and steel plants that are notoriously large consumers of electricity with a significant amount of waste heat, to big-box stores.

“The majority of the world’s electrical power is generated by heat engines that convert heat into mechanical energy, which is then converted into electricity,” Gurin explains. “But approximately 15 trillion watts of energy is not converted and, instead, is released into the environment as waste heat. The Thermafficient thermal engine converts some of that lost heat into useful energy.”

Applying the Thermafficient engine is about as green as it gets, too. “With this technology, you get significantly more efficiency by generating power at the point of use,” Gurin says. When you don’t have to transfer power over long distances, “you have a major reduction in carbon emissions.”

Trained as an aerospace engineer with an MBA in venture capital and finance from the University of Michigan, Gurin worked for some larger companies but determined early in his career that entrepreneurial enterprises were more his forte.

In 1988, Gurin founded CogniTek, a nanotechnology company in Northfield, Ill., (reXorce is a spinoff of CogniTek) where he licensed some thermodynamics technology from a research platform out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Gurin took one piece of NASA’s technology he’d licensed, the champagne heat pump, and developed further intellectual property and patent-pending applications. When developing the Thermafficient thermal engine, he transformed that pump — traditionally used only for cooling — into a combustion, cooling and power-generating system.

Gurin met Brennan while Brennan’s previous company was scouting for innovation and was exploring the use of another CogniTek technology. The two formed an instant friendship.

“Through the process of looking at that technology and getting to know Michael, I knew there was more in his bag of tricks,” says Brennan.

A native of Ireland, Brennan moved to Ohio to find employment in general management with firms such as Rubbermaid and Phizer, but like Gurin, eventually gave in to his “genetic predisposition of four generations of entrepreneurs.”

Immediately after the duo launched reXorce, they drew the attention of investors, green business owners, even the Ohio Department of Development. The company landed a $400,000 investment from JumpStart in September 2007, along with investments from Terra Ventures LLC and Bailey Energy, which brought in $1.8 million in total funding to reXorce. In June, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who chairs the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, awarded the company another $4.3 million to continue developing its technology as part of a $24 million grant focused on technology-based initiatives.

reXorce is headquartered in the Akron Global Business Accelerator, but plans are in the works to move to another building in downtown Akron to accommodate its exponential growth. The company currently employs a dozen people, primarily mechanical and application engineers and a few material science and thermodynamics researchers. Gurin and Brennan expect that figure will approach 30 over the next year.

And as the state continues to makes strides toward sustainability practices through the creation of “green collar” jobs and the development of more renewable energy resources, reXorce is well positioned for future growth. Brennan believes Northeast Ohio’s strong manufacturing and industrial history will help build a regional base in the renewable energy ring.

As Brennen puts it, “We have a responsibility as a region to reinvent ourselves by leveraging what we’ve traditionally been very strong in —manufacturing — in a way that’s new and impactful.”