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Local News

Argonne helping improve energy efficiency in homes

LEMONT – With $2.7 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, Argonne National Labs is teaming up with three other institutions to power an entire home – including electricity, hot water, heating and cooling – for one-eighth of the cost.

The goal is to have the technology available within three years, Argonne announced in a news release.

Even better, the units will be self-contained and off the grid, so they won’t be affected by regional power outages, according to Argonne, which, early this year began partnering with Purdue University, Colorado-based Air Squared Inc, and Mississippi State University to develop the first residential combined heating and power system that uses small generators run by natural gas.

Combined heating and power units are currently used in big industry to increase energy efficiency by avoiding the energy losses that occur when electricity travels over power lines, and by capturing more of the energy output from natural gas through waste-heat recovery from the engine exhaust.

Currently, combined heating and power systems operate on large 4 or 5 kilowatt-sized generators. They are required to connect to the grid to offload excess power and can cost a staggering $25,000 to $30,000. The goal is for the new smaller generators to cost $3,000 or less and last 10 years or more. A smaller version would also be more efficient (from current 26 percent efficiency to a potential 40 percent).

“It’s going to be something totally new,” said Munidhar Biruduganti, a principal research engineer at Argonne. “We want to shoot for an output of one kilowatt, not five kilowatts, so that all the power is used by the home.”

Eckhard A. Groll, Reilly Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Ray W. Herrick Laboratories, at Purdue University, pointed out that an obstacle will be reducing the size of the technology.

“However, the challenge of the current project lies in the miniaturization of the technology for application in a one-kilowatt power output engine.”

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