$1.8M from DOE supports innovative waste heat recovery system

turbo compressor

The turbocompressor is one of the key components to Todd Bandhauer’s waste heat recovery system, now backed by a $1.8 million grant from the Department of Energy. 

Feel the heat radiating off a running car or touch the top of a warm refrigerator. Both are examples of mechanical processes that generate “waste heat.”

On a small scale, like running household appliances, waste heat might not seem like a big deal. But on a large scale, like running a backup generator for a hospital or university, waste heat can equate to a huge loss of energy, efficiency and savings. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), an estimated 20 to 50 percent of industrial energy input is lost as waste heat.

Todd Bandhauer, director of the Interdisciplinary Thermal Science Lab at the Colorado State University Energy Institute and assistant professor in mechanical engineering, has dedicated his career to putting waste heat back to work.

waste heat recovery team
The waste heat recovery system team. Top: Bryan Burk, John Simon, Todd Bandhauer. Middle: Shane Garland, Jensen Hoke, David Hobby. Bottom: Josh Richey, Achyut Paudel, Alex Grauberger, Derek Young

Turbo-compression cooling

The DOE recently identified waste heat recovery from ultra-low temperature sources (<250 degrees Fahrenheit) as an area of focus in their Quadrennial Technology Review. They recently awarded Bandhauer $1.8 million for his project to develop a commercially viable turbo-compression cooling system for ultra-low temperature waste heat recovery.

“We are honored to receive this generous award, which will allow us to move from idea to commercialization rapidly and will help us bring real cost and energy savings to U.S. manufacturers,” Bandhauer said.

Bandhauer’s system takes waste heat generated in mechanical processes and transforms it into cold water that can be used in down-the-line industrial processes. This system represents a major advance in the field because it is able to take waste heat in the lower temperature range (194 degrees Fahrenheit – 302 degrees Fahrenheit) and recover it – something that traditionally researchers have struggled to do.

“His project is thermal alchemy – turning hot into cold. Heating and cooling account for about 48 percent of the energy use in a typical U.S. home, according to the DOE,” added Executive Director of the Energy Institute Bryan Willson. “This award doubles down on his approach to converting waste heat into advanced cooling.”

The turbo-compression cooling system takes the unharnessed waste heat given off in many day-to-day industrial processes, like running a large generator, and quickly transforms it into cooled water in a cost-effective manner.

Large-scale applications

Bandhauer’s project has numerous large-scale practical applications. For instance, dairy producers generate waste heat when they pasteurize their milk. With Bandhauer’s system, a dairy producer could transform the heat they are already generating and put it to work chilling milk.

Bandhauer’s project was one of 24 selected to receive between $250,000 and $2.5 million in funding by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office. His project was the only one in Colorado to receive funding.

The goal of the funding is to boost early-stage research and development of new, advanced manufacturing technologies, like Bandhauer’s cooling system. The funding also encourages research and development contributions from new partners; reduction of technical uncertainty; and development of new knowledge associated with potential breakthrough materials, processes, and tools for U.S. manufacturers.

The project team includes commercial partners Modine Manufacturing Company, which makes industrial chillers; and a specialty turbomachinery company, Colorado-based Barber-Nichols Inc. Through successful partnership, transitioning to market is more likely and is in alignment with DOE’s program goals.

“Fort Collins is a leader in innovation on energy,” Willson said. “Todd’s work to capture and reuse waste heat for cooling is yet another example of out-of-the-box thinking on energy that exemplifies this point.”