The two companies, Creare LLC of Hanover and Brayton Energy of Hampton, has received a total of $4 million in U.S. Department of Energy grants to develop a technology that could revolutionize home power. Both said they are halfway toward reaching their goal.
The DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy grants were announced with great fanfare by the four members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation.
There have been large investments in research on generating renewable electricity, like wind and solar, and in renewable energy-fueled transportation, but not much has been done about home energy.
“Historically it has been forgotten about,” said Jonathan Bass, product developer at IMBY Energy, a three-person engineering in Peterborough that is partnering with Creare.
IMBY – which stands for “in my back yard” – is working on developing the ultimate home appliance, on the generation side.
“It’s a little box four-by-four feet that will sit outside in your backyard and will generate all the energy you need – your electricity, your heating, your air conditioning and your hot water.”
It would initially use natural gas, “but the beauty of it is that it can be powered by different sources,” Bass said. “One of our visions is to translate it biofuels to create a market for a renewable fuel.”
It is no coincidence that IMBY was founded by Steve Walker, former owner of New England Wood Pellet LLC, one of the largest distributors of wood pellet furnaces in the nation.
There have been larger co-generation projects before, but they are usually found at industrial or institutional buildings. The trick, especially on a small scale, is to get the electric generator and the heater to work together so as not to waste energy.
“That integration is our secret sauce,” said Bass, but the goal is that the “black box will supply all the energy you need in a cost-effective manner.” The idea behind the device is that “you can be totally off the grid,” he said.
Brayton Energy is also working on an appliance-sized advance hearting exchange also powered by natural gas, and the $1 million award is an extension of some early awards from the same DOE grant program.
“The concept has been developed in Japan and Europe but very little in the United States,” said Jim Kesseli, president of Brayton, a research and development with 35 engineers that specializes in sustainable energy projects. “Ours is extremely energy-efficient and has very low emissions.”
The appliance might not take a home totally off the grid, but could “make the meter run backwards,” said Kesseli, a reference to net metering. which allows homeowners who generates electricity to earn credits against their electric bill and even get money for any surplus power generated.