The topics of building electrification and the electrification of everything have been increasingly important in recent months.
NextEnergy is engaged in several smart energy and mobility activities to accelerate the path to electrification. We think of energy in three ways: powering devices or things in our homes and buildings, fuel for transportation, and creating heat.
Electricity powers devices in our homes and buildings. Electricity is generated from a variety of sources, so we have diversity and we are not locked into a single source and many of these sources do not produce emissions at their point of use.
With electric vehicles, we are starting to leverage the diversity of sources we have for energy we consume within transportation.
Heat generated from fossil fuels produces emissions. While electrical solutions exist for heating homes and buildings, water, and cooking, they are not considered low cost or efficient in many regions.
Developing lower-cost and efficient solutions for electrically heating spaces within homes and buildings, water, and cooking that can be deployed globally will reduce emissions; leverage renewable energy and storage; and make our grid cleaner, smarter, and more resilient, which benefits everyone.
I am joined by Matt Gurwin, one of the Co-Founders of HEAT X™, a developer of magnetocaloric and magnetic induction technologies, to discuss why electrifying our heating systems is important in addressing climate and driving us toward a carbon-free future.
Before we get into specifics of your technology, I have a few questions on the technologies we currently use for heating in general.
Photos courtesy of HEAT X™.
Matt, electric heating systems like furnaces, space heaters, water heaters, and cooktops are not new. How long have we been deploying these systems?
The U.S. has long been a leader in heating technology. In 1919, African American inventor Alice Parker filed a patent for the first natural gas furnace.[i] At that time, homes were generally heated by individual fireplaces that needed to be tended several times throughout the day and night.
Since the earliest electric heaters used bulbs, Thomas Edison, who patented the lightbulb in 1880, is the inventor who usually comes to mind. However, electric heaters also needed a durable, high-resistance wire to work. In 1905, Albert Leroy Marsh developed chromel (now known as nichrome), which, because of its resistance to corrosion and high melting point (about 1,400°C [2,500°F]) is still widely used today. Marsh was acclaimed as “the father of the electrical heating industry” for his invention.[ii]
The basic principles of induction heating have been applied to manufacturing since the 1920s.[iii] Although the first induction cooktop was presented at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and NASA developed an induction cooktop for astronaut use in the 1960s,[iv] it wasn’t until the early 1970s that a cooktop for home use was developed.[v] Induction cooktops are more popular in Europe and Asia, but American interest in induction cooking has started to gain momentum, driven mainly by increased awareness of and concern for energy efficiency and safety.
In North America, we use a combination of natural gas, propane, fuel oil, and electricity for heat generation. The use of these solutions is based on geography, available infrastructure, and price. What are the dominant sources and technologies for heating in other parts of the world?
Scandinavian countries are clearly in the lead of electrification for heat generation on a per-capita basis.[i] Europe and urban areas in China are following them in this transition from natural gas to electricity.[ii], [iii] The U.S. and Canada have infrastructures heavily invested in natural gas, both for heating and electricity power generation.[iv] Transitioning and converging net-zero requirements means taking action to incentivize clean heating consumption while migrating electric power generation capacity from contaminant sources (e.g., coal, natural gas, and petroleum) to cleaner sources (e.g., solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal).
How efficient are electric heating solutions and how do they compare to fossil-fueled solutions?
This is the real challenge that electric heating technologies have faced: efficiency vs. cost. Another way to put it is operating expenses vs. capital expenditures.
Fossil-fueled heating technologies are more inefficient, the more top-of-the-line appliances (furnaces) achieve efficiency levels of slightly more than 90 percent, but the majority of the appliances are closer to 85 percent efficiency (Stephens n.d.). On the other hand, electric heating is closer to 100 percent efficient, but the kilowatt-hour to generate the same amount of heat is higher than natural gas heaters.[i]
Having a safe and clean technology is no longer subject to a utility cost decision. Our HEAT X™ space heating technology breaks down this paradigm by providing a clean heating technology that is more efficient than electric heating and significantly more efficient and cost effective than fossil-fueled heating.
Michigan has committed to achieving carbon neutrality for all aspects of its economy by 2050, and many of its leading companies and universities have committed to meeting this goal earlier. The infrastructure and technologies we invest in today will have a significant impact on how and when we achieve this. What new technologies and/or infrastructure are required for the electrification of our homes and buildings?
The Paris Agreement represents the globally recognized goal to combat climate change,[i] and this is connected to Michigan’s important goals of carbon neutrality. Without the introduction of game-changing technologies, global emissions will likely rise through 2030 and beyond. With heating contributing approximately 16 percent of the world’s carbon footprint,[ii] next-generation clean energy solutions like HEAT X™ are vital to reach net zero emissions by 2050. To this end, earlier in 2021, HEAT X™ presented an overview of its magnetocaloric technology to members of the U.S. Department of Energy and other global research leaders. The goal of the workshop was to strengthen the links between policies promoting rapid innovation in U.S. manufacturing and policies promoting ambitious action on climate change. The U.S. Congress and Biden Administration will both soon be provided a report detailing those technologies which can most quickly and substantially combat climate change. At this workshop, HEAT X™ stood out among the other examined heating technologies not only because it has one of the highest Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs), but also because its magnetocaloric technology does not require any additional infrastructure and is completely compatible with existing power generation and high-voltage transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Any appliance or equipment utilizing HEAT X™ technology relies on the same power infrastructure as existing commercially available units (120 VAC for smaller/medium and 240 VAC for larger appliances). Our value proposition is efficiency: to consume less power while delivering the same amount of heat as existing technologies safely and without generating a carbon footprint.
We also can impact efficiency by eliminating heat losses. 20 to 30 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts.[iii] Our air heating technology allows for decentralization— there is no need to be hooked up to a gas line. Decentralization enables heat loss reduction (additional efficiency gains) and personalization (individual space heating vs. central heating).
The path to net-zero emissions requires a holistic transformational approach and clean and affordable technological transformation in electric power generation. Coal and fossil fuel use needs to shift to clean technologies (e.g., solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal), transfer and distribution (e.g., smartgrids), storage (e.g., batteries) and service/use (driven by efficiencies).
The optimal response for clean and affordable thermal energy is non-vapor compression technologies like our magnetocaloric technology that leverage the use of electrons and holes, magnetic and electric dipoles, and smart alloys with magnetocaloric, electrocaloric, thermoelectric, and elastocaloric properties. HEAT X™ has achieved the goal of affordability and performance, and we are confident that commercial adoption will come next.
Who is HEAT X™, what is your mission, and what is magnetocaloric induction?
HEAT X™’s mission is to be the worldwide leader in magnetocaloric and magnetic induction heating technologies. Our technology results in significantly less energy usage than current resistive and induction heating methods. This technology is not new—even NASA experimented with it in the 1960s—but the main challenge to commercializing the technology was sourcing expensive and rare materials. Based on this, there was no surprise that prior to the founding of our company, there was extraordinarily little focus on this industry impacting technology here in the U.S. Our company solved the riddle of utilizing low-cost and abundant materials, which can now drive commercialization through efficient designs and affordable consumer and industrial products. Now, in 2021, HEAT X™ has established clear American leadership in this important heating technology, as we are the largest patent holder of magnetocaloric and magnetic induction heating technologies in the U.S.
How does it compare against today’s current solutions?
The technology has broad applications, including appliances, electrical vehicles (EVs), industrial heating processes, and heating residential and commercial buildings. A magnetocaloric heating system applies a magnetic field to a magnetocaloric material (MCM). The result of this process is called the magnetocaloric effect (MCE). The MCE means that the temperature of suitable materials increases when exposed to a magnetic field and decreases when removed. HEAT X™ technology is differentiated by the simplicity of our designs, which utilize abundant and an affordable mix of materials. Our prototypes have also successfully completed Underwriters Laboratories (UL) field elevations for safety and manufacturability. The opportunity for commercializing our technologies and providing sustainable replacement options for existing resistive and induction heating technologies has never been greater.
What is your business model and when will your technology be commercially available?
HEAT X™ is a unique heat-technology company using magnetocaloric and magnetic induction to focus on a technology development licensing partnership business model. Our technologies are patented to create market-sector differentiation with exclusive executions and improvements in heat generation, including all the clean and efficiency attributes of the technologies.
Our initial preferred partners are those actively targeting to commercialize sustainable products and systems delivering better and more cost-effective electric/magnetic induction heating (i.e., space heaters, air duct heaters, dryers, water heaters, cooking equipment, surface heaters, transportation heaters, etc.).
If there is one message you would like to convey about how clean, efficient, and affordable energy technologies are our best weapons to create a brighter, more sustainable carbon-free energy future for the planet, what would that be?
HEAT X™ cannot do this alone. These are great endeavors and time is of the essence. That is why we have surrounded ourselves with the brightest people, advisors, political leaders, as well as partnering with global companies to bring awareness to the fact that based on HEAT X™ efforts, magnetocaloric heating technology is not a technology of the future anymore. It’s a viable technology, ready to commercialize today, to help save our planet.
We look forward to realizing the social and environmental value of our technology.
[i] Lemelson–MIT. “Alice H. Parker.” Accessed July 8, 2021. https://lemelson.mit.edu/resources/alice-h-parker
[ii] “Albert Marsh: Inventor, Scientist.” June 5, 1997. Pana News-Palladium. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20060822130023/http://www.toaster.org/marsh.html
[iii] Patil, Tejas, Atul Patil, and Vijay Patil. 2014. “A Critical Review on Different Coil Configurations Used for Induction Heating System.” International Journal of Engineering, Business, and Enterprise Applications. 7 (1): 35–39. http://iasir.net/IJEBEApapers/IJEBEA14-116.pdf
[iv] Tiller, Natasia. January 3, 2014. “Space-age Cooking.” On the House. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://www.onthehouse.com/space-age-cooking/
[v] History of Microwave. “Induction Cooking—History of Induction Cooker.” n.d. History of Microwave. Accessed July 9, 2021. http://www.historyofmicrowave.com/microwave-history/history-of-induction-cooker/
[vi] Patronen, Jenni, Eeva Kaura, and Cathrine Torvestad. 2017. Nordic Heating and Cooling: Nordic Approach to EU’s Heating and Cooling Strategy. Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers. https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1098961/FULLTEXT01.pdf
[vii] Chestney, Nina. May 14, 2021. “Analysis: Gas Faces Existential Crisis in Climate-wary Europe.” Reuters. Accessed July 9, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/gas-faces-existential-crisis-climate-wary-europe-2021-05-14/
[viii] O’Meara, Sarah. August 26, 2020. “China’s Plan to Cut Coal and Boost Green Growth.” Nature. Accessed July 9, 2020. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02464-5
[ix] Stanley, Andrew. May 7, 2018. Mapping the U.S.–Canada Relationship. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Accessed July 9, 2021. https://www.csis.org/analysis/mapping-us-canada-energy-relationship
[x] United States Department of Energy. n.d. “Electric Resistance Heating.” Energy Saver. Accessed July 12, 2021. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/home-heating-systems/electric-resistance-heating
[xi] United Nations Climate Change. 2021. “The Paris Agreement.” United Nations Climate Change. Accessed July 12, 2021. https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
[xii] Climate Watch. n.d. “GHG Emissions.” Climate Watch. Accessed July 15, 2021. https://www.climatewatchdata.org/ghg-emissions?source=CAIT
[xiii] United States Environmental Protection Agency. n.d. “Duct Sealing with Energy Star®”. Energy Star.gov. Accessed July 15, 2021. https://www.energystar.gov/sites/default/files/asset/document/ES_Duct_Sealing_flyer.pdf