The way we produce and distribute heat and electricity is wasteful and inefficient.
In the United States, most of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels in giant power plants. These plants are notoriously inefficient, only turning an average of one-third of the fuel they burn into electricity production; the rest of the energy goes into heat, which cannot be transported and thus is wasted and thrown away. This electricity then gets transmitted over seven million miles of transmission and distribution grids to homes across the country.
Hertz Fellows Max Mankin and Tony Pan, who together co-founded Modern Electron, want to change all of that. Their company is refocusing energy production by making it work better and moving it closer to home. In fact, they’d like to move it into your home.
With their new technology, you can get energy from your own furnace, powering your home without relying on the massive electricity grid. And the fuel burned in your furnace will be almost entirely used, raising your efficiency to nearly 100 percent.
Modern Electron’s solution turns home furnaces and boilers into small, personal power plants that can save homeowners hundreds of dollars a year on average on their utility bills. And efficient, home-based energy production can save up to a ton of CO2 emissions a year.
“It’s a win-win for both you as the homeowner and for society if these technologies are in the same box,” says Mankin. “Everything gets cheaper and greener.”
Big Technology in a Simple Package
Modern Electron created a technology that converts heat directly to electricity. It created a small cylinder-shaped device that fits within your heating appliance, captures the high-grade heat that normally gets wasted, and turns that heat into electricity.
The unassuming device is a perfect encapsulation of the team’s vision of a high-tech yet low-footprint, low-maintenance, and ultimately affordable and reliable solution for greener energy.
“If you're a homeowner, you care about a few things in your high-efficiency heating appliance,” says Mankin. “One, does it save you money? Second, is it a pain in the butt? And third, is it really expensive? We're building a technology that satisfies all those criteria.”
Cheaper and Greener
Reducing carbon emissions is becoming more and more important in the face of climate change. Researchers have created and implemented new technology solutions in almost every sector except home heating. Mankin and Pan recognized that there was an untapped market for greener energy that would lower carbon impacts.
“There are 50 million homes in the United States where our technology would be a very good fit, and about 100 million homes in Europe,” says Pan. He hopes Modern Electron’s technology can be installed in many, if not all, of these homes.
While home heating is the first step, Modern Electron’s technology can easily be scaled up to small businesses, restaurants, and commercial buildings. Any building that uses similar heating systems can use their product to capture heat and produce electricity.
“We can feel good at the end of the day if we’re watching a counter on a wall that shows three numbers: customers using our product, CO2 emissions reduction, and dollars saved for the homeowners.” said Mankin.