Cultivating Deep Engineering Expertise
Our R&D tradition and ongoing research have allowed us to cultivate deep engineering expertise and maintain continuity over several decades. We have sustained a strong core technical knowledge that is critical to ongoing product support and enhancements.
Focusing on R&D since the 1960s
Our extensive R&D capabilities date back to the company's inception in the early 1960's as the R&D/New Business center of Thermo Electron Corporation. In those early days, we performed more fundamental and applied research, but have since evolved to focus more on targeted product development.
Our TecoDrive engine, cogeneration and chiller products, gas heat pumps, and most recently the inverter-based InVerde "premium power" module, were all created and optimized with the support of both public and private funding sources.
Focusing on the Future
As Tecogen continues to grow, our areas of research grow with it. We aim to keep our technology efforts moving forward.
In 2008 we began conducting laboratory experimentation on our engines to develop emissions control technology capable of achieving robust compliance with the stringent CARB 2007 emissions standard. Funding support was provided by the California Energy Commission, with co-funding by Sempra Energy, and administration by DE Solutions of San Diego, CA. Our exhaustive R&D initiative resulted in the development of our pioneering Ultera two stage catalyst system for ultra-low emissions control which delivers near-zero, fuel-cell comparable emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. The Ultera system is now fully patented and offered on all of our efficient cogeneration equipment as well as being offered as a retrofit for other third-party manufactured natural gas engines. While our systems now meet current permitting levels in California, keeping ahead of the technology requirement is critical to maintaining our market position, not just in California, but on the East Coast and Europe as well.
Additional work is now being done with various partners to explore other potential applications of the cutting-edge Ultera technology including propane fork trucks, other natural gas engines and vehicles, emergency standby generators, etc. Via our Ultra Emissions Technologies Ltd. joint venture, the system is also being developed for potential application to gasoline-fueled vehicles - as vast new potential market.
Advanced Cogeneration Engine
In 2009, we were awarded $1 million in research and development funds from the California Energy Commission (CEC) to apply the recent advances made in small-size automotive engine technology, specifically with hybrid vehicles, to the stationary natural gas cogeneration market. We partnered with AVL California Technology Center to take a technically advanced automotive engine platform and adapt it for the cogeneration application. The engine's features include:
- Sophisticated Atkinson thermodynamic cycle
- Variable valve timing
- Extra-high compression ratio,
- Lightweight aluminum block and heads
- Advanced electronic controls
The program objective required first converting the fuel system to natural gas and then optimizing efficiency over the cogeneration duty cycle, which considerably contrasts that of a vehicle. AVL performed analytical modeling, as well as dynamometer testing for mapping the engine's performance and calibrating the various control parameters. We then implemented an endurance test for 5000 hours in our laboratory. This next-generation engine expanded our technology into smaller Distributed Generation (DG) products.
Ultra High-Efficiency Heating Appliance
Our R&D team embarked upon the development of a new product, a gas-fired ultra high-efficiency heating appliance, through our majority owned subsidiary, Ilios Inc. This module utilizes a heat pump Carnot cycle to produce hot water and supplement this energy with waste heat from the engine, resulting in an efficiency that surpasses a conventional gas-fired water heater by more than two times.
How does it work?
A heat pump takes the naturally occurring energy from the environment (low temperature) and with mechanical work, pumps this heat to higher temperature using a standard vapor compression refrigeration cycle. This mechanical work can be provided by an electric motor. However, in our case, the work is provided by a natural gas-fired engine. In addition, the refrigeration cycle's heat is supplemented with the engine's waste heat, for added efficiency.
A measure of efficiency is the Coefficient of Performance (COP), which is defined as the useful energy "out" (hot water), divided by the useful energy "in" (fuel). By comparing the COP of the Ilios heater to COP's for typical electric-motor driven heat pump technology and conventional gas-fired boilers, the benefit is clearly apparent. These fuel savings not only provide an economic benefit, but also reduce the carbon footprint from that of conventional systems by nearly half.
Several modules have been built and tested, and the first unit has been running in the field for several months.