ElectraTherm gets funds for 'waste-heat generator'

The company gets $2.6 million to further develop generator that makes electricity from industrial waste heat at factories, saw mills, and oil and gas fields.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
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ElectraTherm, which has developed a relatively small machine for making electricity from waste heat, has raised $2.6 million and plans a follow-on round next year.

The Carson City, Nev.-based company's ElectraTherm Green Machine is designed to squeeze power from the heat thrown off at industrial facilities like factories, saw mills, or oil and gas operations.

A 50-kilowatt generator that runs on industrial waste heat. ElectraTherm

The company intends to make units that range in size from 30 kilowatts to 500 kilowatts, enough to offset electricity use at an industrial facility. A 50 kilowatt unit can generate roughly what 40 U.S. homes consume.

The money from the $2.6 million Series A was from Michigan investor Interlaken and angel investors, said William Olsen, ElectraTherm's vice president of business development. He said the company intends to raise more money--in the range of $5 million to $8 million--early next year to expand manufacturing.

The company has made only a handful of units so far, including one installed at Southern Methodist University. But Olsen said the company is in discussions with utilities, oil and gas companies, and other industrial firms looking for energy-efficiency technologies.

"There's waste heat everywhere," he said. "We've been able to convince (potential customers) that the technology works. At this stage, it's just helping them deploy it."

The generator uses an organic Rankine cycle to convert heat into electrical energy. It channels heat to a refrigerant that is converted to a gas by the heat. The vapor pressure caused from that reaction turns a mechanism that is connected to a generator that makes electricity.

ElectraTherma certainly isn't the only company that has equipment to turn industrial waste heat into electricity. But its product design allows it to operate at relatively small scale and low temperatures, as low as 200 degrees, Olsen said.

When fossil fuels are burned, about two thirds of the energy content is wasted. The net effect of a heat-capturing machine is to squeeze another ten percent of energy from those fuels, Olsen said.

The cost for a 50-kilowatt system is $128,000. Depending on the cost of electricity, the payback is typically under three years, according to the company.