How building an outdoor ice rink led to a new way to produce cheap, clean power | Michigan Radio

How building an outdoor ice rink led to a new way to produce cheap, clean power

Sep 21, 2017

The Next Idea


So many innovative ideas begin with inventors observing simple events. Take Newton’s falling apple, for example, or Archimedes’ overflowing bathtub. 

For Emil Ureel of West Michigan, it was building an ice rink in his backyard — or rather designing a refrigeration system to keep it from melting.


“I thermodynamically ended up producing a chiller system from a used central air unit,” Ureel said. “Going through the process, I learned something related to thermodynamics that’s referred to as saturation vapor pressure.”

The principle suggests that there is a relationship between the temperature of a gas and the pressure it exerts on its container.


Ureel noticed that the pressure the propane put on his gas tank rose from 80 psi on a cold winter day to 220 psi on a warm summer day.


He also noticed that the needle in the gauge was doing work, even though it was small, as it moved the 140 psi as the temperature changed. It was producing power.


“That led me down the path of producing several prototypes where the purpose was to figure out how to make a bigger needle that could actually do some real work and produce, some real power,” Ureel said.


He started building prototypes as small as 2 feet by 2 feet, eventually leaving his job as an electrical engineer to build a device he calls a Synergine in January and starting his own company called Synergy Power, LLC.


“If you supply it with warm water on one side and cool water on other, it uses the temperature difference and produces direct torque,” Ureel said.


About the size of a kitchen table and weighing in at 500 pounds, the Synergine can be used to run household appliances like a coffee maker or refrigerator, or even houses in rural areas of the county where he says wind and solar power doesn’t work as well.


“A lot of times these people are remote enough that the expense for the utility to come out and run power lines to their home is very expensive,” Ureel said.


But he wants to go even bigger, building a Synergine as large as 50,000 pounds.


“There is literally billions of BTUs of heat that is going out into the environment that could be harvested with this technology on a much larger scale that could be used to produce emission-free power for tens of thousands of homes, and it wouldn’t take up acres of space for solar and wind farms,” said Ureel.


With his first private investor acquired this spring, he’s on his way to exploring what he considers a “a huge revenue of energy that hasn’t been tapped into.”



The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.

Join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook, or let us know your Next Idea here.

(Subscribe to The Next Idea podcast on iTunes, or with this RSS link.)