Local engineer innovates with new geothermal heat pump system
Matt Desmarais with the geothermal heat pump system he designed
By Kurt Kimmel
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2022 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, buildings are the largest single source of climate change-inducing greenhouse gasses in New York State. Switching from fossil fuel heating sources such as gas and heating oil to more efficient electric powered sources such as air and ground source (geothermal) heat pumps, is critical to meeting the state’s climate goals and also improves indoor air quality. Existing heat pump technology is available to keep New Yorker’s comfortable year round but the interest in switching to climate and health friendly heat pumps is driving innovation and expanding business opportunities right here in the Capital Region.
About Matt Desmarais
Matt Desmarais is the founder of a geothermal heat pump start-up Energy Catalyst, based in Watervliet, NY. Even with geothermal technology existing for many years, Matt has found a way to further improve the adaptability and efficiency of the technology. He is trained as a mechanical engineer, graduating from Clarkson University in 2013. He got the idea to build a new type of geothermal heat pump after working with industrial heat pumps in France and learning better techniques of refrigerant heat extraction. Gaining the confidence and capital investment from private investors including his former President of Clarkson University, Tony Collins, Energy Catalyst was initiated, patent applications submitted, and prototyping started. The first production system installed in October 2021 runs today in a Saratoga Springs N.Y. private residence and eight other systems are now in the field.
Geothermal products and benefits
The facility in Watervliet, N.Y. is where the system quality assurance testing and installation /service support is provided. The actual heat pumps are assembled from a combination of purchased and custom-fabricated components by a contract manufacturer. In November of 2022, Energy Catalyst achieved a key business and technical milestone when their system finished testing for the federal government’s coveted Energy Star rating. The formal certification is expected in 2023 and means not only that the system is among the most efficient in its class but also makes it eligible for substantial rebates afforded by the federal and state government programs which seek to encourage adoption of energy efficient systems.
Energy Catalyst primarily focuses on retrofitting their geothermal systems to existing oil or gas-fired hydronic (water-based) heating systems with baseboard or old-fashioned cast iron radiators. In this area of New York with so many older, thermally inefficient homes, conversion to a geothermal heat pump can have a dramatic impact on heating cost. The Double Hybrid technology innovation from Energy Catalyst reuses all the homes’ existing infrastructure and adds supplemental heating through a passive duct system which is between the basement and first floor of the building. New construction projects can take advantage of this to mix modes of home environment control to have, for example, ducted air-based summer cooling and radiant floor heating in the winter, which is especially nice in a finished basement and bathrooms.
Another significant benefit is the system’s ability to pre-heat domestic water for a tank-based system. In the summer, it is feasible to provide all the domestic hot water needs while in winter the pre-heated water will reduce the need for additional heating in the water heater.
Though it costs about double to install a geothermal system compared with a boiler or furnace replacement, the cost to operate is the equivalent of $1.15 per gallon of #2 fuel oil (at current prices December 2022), so there are significant long-term savings when compared with fuel oil or propane.
For a list of clean heating installers, visit the HeatSmart Capital Region website. HeatSmart Capital Region is a community initiative funded by the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and managed by the Albany Affordable Housing Partnership in partnership with Capital District Community Energy, which supports residents in exploring ways to improve how they heat and cool their buildings.
If you are interested in learning more generally about how geothermal technology works, take a look at this article from Popular Mechanics which, while not recently written, provides a good overview
And this video from NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority)