Monday, April 25, 2011

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Engineer claims energy solution
'Device increases the efficiency of oil burners, entrepreneur says'

An industrial engineer from Massachusetts has an invention he says could save New Hampshire residents a bundle on home heating costs. Eric LaVoie says he has figured out a way to get more heat and less soot from the oil that heats many houses in New England, and his new contraption - which is only sold in New Hampshire - will keep toxic pollutants out of the air while reducing the amount of oil needed to heat homes and offices.

The Monitor spoke with LaVoie to learn more.

Do you have a background in science?

I'm an industrial engineer. I work on boilers and environmental systems like wastewater treatment and chemical processes and pumps. I did that for 10 years - all the way until 1998 - then a lot of the companies that used industrial engineers went over to Asia and China, so I painted houses on the side to try to support my family.

How did you come up with the idea?

I saw somebody burning waste motor oil at a garage that does tune-ups. . . . Some garages burn the used motor oil and transmission fluid to heat the garage. (The garage owner) had kind of an expensive operation going with a lot of apparatuses to try to make the system burn clean, but it wasn't clean and would often fail. I started putting my thoughts together, and within two days I put an idea together in paper. Within four months I had built a working prototype.

How does it work?

The science basically is that we are using a much higher pressure. The pressure in a traditional system is about 100 pounds per square inch. In the Burner Booster, it's between 1,000 and 1,600 (pounds per square inch). The other part of it is that the fuel oil is heated, warmed up to enhance the atomization. It becomes a fine mist, compared to fine droplets in other burners.

The droplets take longer to burn, travels in the boiler and once you put heat in the chimney, it's not doing any good except warming the town you live in. And those emissions that you're sending up the stack are more toxic if they aren't burned in the combustion chamber. (The Burner Booster) keeps the heat inside the center of combustion chamber, and the mist burns up quickly. It's a cleaner burn.

Is it patented?

It's patent pending. We are waiting for one more series of signing off from the patent office, which we expect in the next three or four weeks.

How much can it really reduce the amount of oil used?

No two systems are alike. On average, in the real world, it's a 28 to 36 percent reduction. Lab tests showed higher, but that's in a lab, you know?

And you've tested them out in real homes and businesses?

The first was four years ago, it was in Medway, Massachusetts, and the second was a couple months later in Dover, New Hampshire. Both were homes. We wanted to see how it works in the real world. We first saw results between 25 and 35 (percent reduction), and we made some adjustments with what we learned to increase efficiency.

Where is it being sold now?

It's only sold in New Hampshire. We're a small company, so we didn't want to be scattered in too many locations at once. We work with Paradigm Plumbing and Heating (in Hooksett), it's the first independent dealer. They handle service within 45 minutes to an hour of Manchester.

How did you get connected with Paradigm?

I had sent out some brochures and fliers to different sellers asking if they wanted to see a demonstration, and Paradigm was interested. I bought an old 17-foot U-Haul box truck to carry two combustion chambers with a glass top so you can look down and see the entire thing. Seeing is believing.

How many have you sold?

Two so far, but I've taken orders this week for six. We're trying to not go crazy. We can produce eight units a day out of the shop, but we're still a startup company.

What are your marketing strategies?

We're getting in touch with large (heating equipment) distributors, and they have shown interest in carrying the Burner Booster. It does have to be installed by a licensed oil-burning technician. The distributors sell directly to plumbing and heating companies like Paradigm, so technicians can walk in and purchase it before they install it in a home. It takes about one to one-and-one-half hours to install.

And it's something that you add on to your current system, instead of a replacement?

You don't have to replace the current system, it adds on to the boiler. It does come with a new burner from Wayne Combustion Systems, though. It's made to work with the Burner Booster, so it's unique, and reliable. The parts have a three-year warranty.

How much do they cost?

They vary in price. Residential, on average, will be around $5,900. Small- and medium-sized commercial buildings - the kind that might go through 10,000 and 20,000 gallons per year - will be close to $8,000. One Burner Booster box can fire two boilers, so they don't have to get one Burner Booster for each boiler.

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