When General Electric announced its first round of winners for the Ecomagination Challenge last month, IceCode was awarded one of the prizes based on its technology that can instantly melt ice off of wind turbines.
Ice, however, is not unique to turbines spinning over the Great Plains or offshore, and turbines are not even the largest focus for IceCode right now. The science, which uses small pulses of electricity to break the bonds between ice and a surface, is perfect for any object or device where ice gets in the way, especially refrigeration units, both commercial and residential, as well as cars. The company is thrilled to have the recognition from GE, but it continues to plug away on market solutions that are closest at hand.
“The interest is in the wind turbines,” said Gabriel Martinez, COO of IceCode. “But we were unique among the 12 winners that were invested in [by GE]. They all targeted one market, and ours is extremely broad-based.”
The primary focus for IceCode right now isn’t wind turbines at all, but refrigeration. The company is currently in talks with the two largest retailers in the U.S. about implementing the solution in their refrigeration units and freezers through retrofits. “For them, the interesting part is that the technology is truly disruptive,” said Martinez.
Refrigeration hasn’t changed much in the past half-century or so, and there aren’t as many direct benefits for the manufacturers to integrate IceCode’s proprietary technology, thin-film pulse electrothermal de-icing, or PETD. The manufacturer can’t really capitalize on the energy savings, but the end user certainly can. Martinez said that the entire refrigeration system can save upwards of 35 percent of the energy used. The payback is less than a year.
It sounds so good that some people (including Greentech Media's Editor-in-Chief, Michael Kanellos, who wrote about PETD four years ago) might be surprised that it is not already in every new refrigerator on sale at Sears this holiday season. But the path to market is long and slow with white goods manufacturers, although IceCode does have a licensing agreement with LG Electronics. (A little company called GE also makes refrigerators and freezers.)
In a typical residential icemaker, it typically takes 360 seconds to remove ice, according to Martinez. IceCode, he said, can do it in two seconds. The savings are similar on the evaporator side, which cools the refrigerator. Instead of 20 to 40 minutes, the process takes less than 30 seconds.
The money -- and ability to open doors -- from GE will be used to proliferate the technology as a whole, not just in wind turbine applications. PETD could also be used to make ice miraculously melt off of a frozen windshield on a cold winter morning. The Lebanon, NH-based company is currently in preliminary talks with automakers, which could leverage the advantages of PETD in marketing.
“The technology provides value in four typical ways: energy savings, cost of manufacturing, [and] increases in reliability or safety,” said Martinez. “One of those four things can translate into value for the end user, retailer or manufacturer.” For each application, the value proposition is different, and so IceCode must match that to the right group in order to achieve widespread adoption of PETD technology.
In the case of wind turbines, it is probably the utility or wind farm developer that would see the most benefit. Utilities might also be interested because PETD can be used to keep ice off of power lines.
If melting ice off of wind turbines or windshields doesn’t sound interesting, consider that the technology can also be used in reverse, essentially creating ice magnets. While the market for ice magnets (or a curious-sounding ice gun mentioned by Martinez) might be minor compared to ice melting, the folks at IceCode are not limiting themselves when it comes to applications.
As for the newfound relationship with GE, the company is excited about providing the world with an additional technology that can save energy. “We don’t really greenwash ourselves,” said Martinez, “but we’re all environmentalists at heart.”