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Marnoch Thermal Power Inc.

The Marnoch Heat Engine

Marnoch Thermal Power Inc. - The Marnoch Heat Engine

From the beginning, the project was to turn theory into practice.

In the late 1980s, business owner Ian Marnoch found himself in a power outage in Montreal, Quebec. Freezing cold, he started thinking about energy consumption and wasted heat. He wondered if there was a way to minimize our reliance on the traditional central supply system; if there was a way to re-use waste heat from existing regional industries.

man looking at equipment

Marnoch started conducting his own research on sustainable power generation and by 2005 had fully committed to the idea of developing a product. And so, Marnoch Thermal Power Inc. was born, a small company of just three individuals engaged in the research and development of the Marnoch heat engine.

The engine captures wasted industrial heat before it is about to be released into the atmosphere. Then, the waste heat is converted into useable electricity. The engine also works efficiently with geothermal applications that do not produce high enough temperatures for traditional generating methods.

Marnoch’s current project is improving the engine’s transmission for the mechanical transfer of the converted heat to the generator. Typically there are three steps to convert heat to electricity via this type of thermal generation. The heat must be converted to mechanical energy then transferred from mechanical energy to a generator. At each step, energy is lost in the process and efficient transmission from mechanical to electrical energy via the generator is a key factor in overall system efficiency.

While the company’s first prototype was able to demonstrate that the idea worked, Marnoch says it was very primitive. There were still improvements to be made to the valve systems as well as the engine’s transmission. Marnoch says these improvements were necessary in order to reduce the internal energy loss during the transfer and in turn increase economic viability. To take this next step, Marnoch required proper lab facilities and a team with expertise on electrical engineering and thermodynamics.

To cover the costs of these resources, they sought out additional funding. Marnoch and his team was awarded a grant from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) through its Applied Research and Commercialization (ARC) Initiative. ARC aims to accelerate innovation and improve productivity for globally competitive southwestern Ontario companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. FedDev Ontario accomplishes this by providing funding to universities so faculty and students can work directly with industry businesses on innovative projects.

“We needed the assistance at the prototype level to evaluate and improve the design before moving on to a commercial grade,” explains Marnoch. “Without it, we were kind of stuck.”

Dr. Greg Naterer, a professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at UOIT was the collaborating faculty member on the project. Marnoch knew the project was in the right hands after he discussed Phase one of his design with Dr. Naterer, a Canada Research Chair in Alternative Energy Systems.

a guage

“Dr. Naterer was instrumental in getting the technology to the stage where we had a credible prototype to demonstrate the practicality of the engine,” says Marnoch. 

“Everything in our books is here,” says Pooya Saneipoor, a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering at UOIT, who has been working on the project since the time he was completing his master’s degree.Dr. Naterer’s students have been working on the second generation of the Marnoch engine, specifically on the transmission and valves. As an ongoing project, the engine has been a continuous source of education for UOIT students at the undergraduate, master and PhD levels.

“My colleagues and I applied knowledge from our respective backgrounds to make educated design and development choices for the project,” says Saneipoor. “There was a lot I had to teach myself, but I just referred back to what I had learned at UOIT.”

“It was a lot of responsibility. I could ask professors for help but mostly I did everything myself, like how it might be on the job,” he says.Where Saneipoor was responsible for all of the formulas, designs and tests for the mechanical aspects of the engine, his colleague Ryan Naughton dealt with all things electrical. Naughton, who has just completed his Master in Applied Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering degree at UOIT, says he too taught himself a lot based on skills from class, and now has more confidence in his own resourcefulness.

Not only did the project provide Saneipoor and Naughton with the opportunity to turn theory into practice, it also gave them valuable industry experience, something Dr. Naterer says is essential for students.   

“Especially in this economy where you have to have experience and an education to get a job, I think they really benefitted from the collaboration,” says Dr. Naterer.

According to Marnoch, both Saneipoor and Naughton have added critical insight and additional innovation to the overall performance of the engine through observations, tests, and research.

Naughton regularly tests and fine-tunes the engine, paying particular attention to the timing of the valves. He says this provides him with great insight on what to do for next stage of the technology, the commercialized model.

Saneipoor has also been looking ahead, and is currently designing a new version of the technology for evaluation.

Dr. Naterer says he was interested in supervising the heat engine project because he has a keen interest in clean, usable energy systems.

“I found this project unique because while there are other devices like this, this one is able to use waste heat at lower temperatures and as a result has more potential applications,” explains Dr. Naterer. “It is able to recover 10 to 20 per cent of waste heat.”

sudents looking at equipment

This degree of waste heat recovery means the Marnoch heat engine can have a positive environmental impact. The design recycles waste heat that would otherwise be lost into the environment through air or water.

Marnoch says while the environmental impact could be incredible, at this stage the main goal is to demonstrate the economic value of the engine to prospective buyers. His team uses the prototype and their calculations to show how reusing waste heat will lower energy costs.

“For buyers, the environmental impact at this point is a bonus,” says Marnoch.

While the technology is currently being marketed for industrial use to companies that emit waste heat into the environment on a large scale, further commercialization and development could ultimately lead to the heat engine’s use in residential areas.

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