We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Michael Sams, the President and CEO of AMSEnergy – the first-ever winner of the final stage of an ARCTIC Innovation Challenge. AMSEnergy’s thermosyphon heat pipe technology addresses the ARCTIC Waste Heat Challenge, which is sponsored by Foresight and the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). For more information on this and the other ARCTIC Innovation Challenges currently underway visit the ARCTIC Website
Tell us about your company and your technology
I founded AMSEnergy in 2006 after 31 years in industrial manufacturing, primarily in the auto sector. I’d done some work in energy assessments and demand-side energy savings for various industrial companies, and this led to my interest in waste heat recovery.
After a lot of research, a new technology (well, not new…but relatively unknown and underutilized given its potential) called thermosyphon based Heat Pipe Heat Exchangers came onto my radar. Heat pipes are sometimes referred to as thermal “superconductors” because they can transfer 1,000 times more thermal conductivity than a solid copper conductor of equivalent size.
The technology had been refined by NASA in the 1960s as a method to deal with the concentration of heat on satellites and spacecraft, but was considered too expensive for other applications. With advancements in manufacturing technology and patented processes, the concept has been adapted for wider use in the aviation industry and is used to cool computers. I realized it represented a big opportunity so took a risk and started the company.
Our Heat Pipe Heat Exchanger (HPHX) technology is made up of a cluster of heat pipes that transport a large quantity of heat with a very small temperature differential between the primary (waste, source or evaporation) and the secondary (recovery, sink or condensing) sides of the heat exchanger. It will capture and re-purpose heat lost during in situ oil sands production, thereby reducing natural gas use. In turn, this will reduce costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
What’s new or unique about your technology?
What makes our technology different is that we use evaporative cooling to transfer thermal energy from one end of an evacuated and hermetically sealed pipe to the other end by a two-phase operation of a working fluid. Within the thermosyphon heat pipe bundle, each heat pipe
What happens now?
We have been very fortunate in that we have been given the opportunity to test two methods of waste heat recovery. The first, to test a gas-to-air version – directly pre-warming the combustion air going to the once through steam generators (OTSG’s) with the second test – a gas-to-liquid model that would pre-warm a more traditional closed loop triethylene glycol (TEG) mixture that also acts as a pre-warming of the combustion air. Once the results are reviewed from the studies, we’ll have the discussion about which methods are more beneficial in specific types of oil sands operations.
If it’s successful, what will that mean for industry and Alberta?
The technology will reduce GHG emissions by as much as 10 per cent, and will also reduce costs because less energy will be required. There will be jobs created in installation, building and construction. There is a lot of talent and skills spread out throughout Alberta and we’re looking forward to building out the local supply chain.
What was your experience like with the ARCTIC program?
As a small company, it can be really hard to get in the door with industry and investors. Plus, no one wants to be “the first”. The ARCTIC program has been a huge door opener for us, and a fantastic opportunity to partner with larger companies and showcase what our technology can do.
Do you have any general tips for startups?
Surround yourself with good people because you can’t be the expert in every field.
Be prepared for the fact that being an entrepreneur isn’t usually just about you. It involves your friends and family because it can be so engrossing it sometimes feels like a 24/7 commitment – especially if your company has a broad range of customers.
Always be ready to pivot if you encounter a roadblock.
Last but not least, let the good experiences carry you forward.
For more information on the ARCTIC Innovation Challenge program, click here