People who have lost their homes after Hurricane Maria hit the island in September, walk with the help of a flashlight at a school turned shelter, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico October 18, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With millions of Puerto Ricans still in the dark more than a month after Hurricane Maria, one Israeli firm’s super-efficient car engine could help restore power by making generators much more compact and portable.
“Today, if you want to backup a Puerto Rican house, it’s impossible. How will you take a generator, one that you need a crane to install, and put it there? Not every house has a backyard or front yard,” said Gal Fridman, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Aquarius Engines – an Israeli firm that seeks to transform the design and operation of the internal combustible engine, shifting it away from the heavy, piston-driven machine with myriad moving parts.
Installing a bulky, expensive generator poses challenges for many Puerto Ricans who need the device, especially when 75% of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million people still lack electricity. For the fortunate island residents who have managed to set them up, the generators are only strong enough to power a refrigerator and a light bulb, never mind the rest of the house or apartment.
Into the picture enters Aquarius Engines Company – established in 2014 by Israeli co-founders Fridman, CTO Shaul Yaakoby and CEO Ariel Gorfung. The company claims to have designed a lighter generator that is two-to-three times more efficient than current machines, as well as being much more portable and powerful.
The generator could restore power on a larger scale – producing 32 kilowatts of power, enough for two private homes – in time for the next such natural disaster. And the new machine would only be the size of an average air conditioner, Aquarius said, its smaller dimensions permitting installation in many hard-to-reach hamlets.
“Had our generator already been commercially available, it could have solved the Puerto Rican electricity crisis before it happened. Our lightweight generator could have been easily distributed before or after the hurricane, providing power to millions of people,” Fridman said.
Ditching the classic multiple-piston engine that rotates a series of parts to turn the wheels, Aquarius instead offers a horizontal- moving, single-piston cylinder that generates energy. The new design is much smaller and simpler. It has no crankshaft and fewer parts to maintain or replace after normal wear-and-tear. Fewer components also mean greater efficiency, as the energy produced is dispersed to fewer places.
“We redesigned the internal combustion engine. We took something that used to be big and complex, that’s full of lots of moving parts, and we simplified it,” Fridman said. The new Aquarius engine weighs only 10.5 kg. and contains fewer than 20 parts, with one moving piston that oscillates leftto- right and not in cycles. An equivalent engine with a parallel output contains an average of 200 parts, the co-founder claims, and would weigh between 90 and 150 kg.
A comparable Turbocharged Stratified Injection engine costs between $1,200 and $1,600. The Aquarius engine will likely cost less than half that. The generator could enter the market around the year 2020, with customers able to purchase it in department stores like Ace, Walmart and Target.
The internal combustion engine has undergone incremental change since it was first developed in the mid-1800s, said Fridman. But Aquarius promises to turn that engine upside-down, operating with far greater energy efficiency and using a greater proportion of its fuel to generate actual power.
“The potential efficiency of the engine is above 40%,” said Fridman, “while the industry standard remains around 15 to 20%, with the rest of the energy wasted [as] heat. Even if there’s a boutique Formula One [racing] engine that can reach 40% [efficiency], it’s a limited engine with a limited life expectancy. It’s not a commercial engine that can be made in mass volume.”
The company is currently talking to European automakers, but today it’s not possible to install a generator in a car. Aquarius claims that its design could reduce the size of automotive rechargeable batteries – or replace them altogether – and dramatically increase the range of the vehicle running on gasoline.
It is still unclear how much it would cost to set up a factory to produce these engines on a commercial scale. But the expense might be prohibitive for automakers seeking to transition away from the traditional internal combustion engine and move toward electric cars. It is possible that with more countries seeking to cut their CO2 emissions, the drive toward energy efficiency could provide incentive for the adoption en masse of the more efficient Aquarius engine.
“This is the dawning of the ‘Age of Aquarius,’ when every home could easily be self-sufficient with a back-up generator,” said Fridman, punning the company’s name. “Off-the-grid electricity may be the biggest market. Think Africa, think Puerto Rico, Gaza, anywhere where the power goes down.”
The company has raised some $17 million of funding in the past three years and expects to raise another $20m.