Company Solves Puerto Rican Emergency Generator Problem

With millions of Puerto Ricans still sitting 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 back-up 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 which seeks to transform the design and operation of the internal combustible engine, shifting it away from the heavy and bulky piston-driven machine with myriad moving parts.

Installing a heavy, 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 lucky island residents who have managed to set up a generator, the machines are only strong enough to power a lightbulb and a refrigerator, never mind the rest of the house or apartment.

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 powerful and portable. 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.

" 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 which rotates to turn the wheels, Aquarius instead offers a horizontal-moving, single-piston cylinder that generates energy. The new design is much smaller and simpler, with no crankshaft and fewer parts to maintain and replace after normal wear-and-tear. Less components also means greater efficiency, as the energy produced is dispersed to fewer places.

The new Aquarius engine weighs only 10.5 kg and contains less than 20 parts, with one moving piston that oscillates left-to-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 90-150kg.

In terms of cost, a comparable Turbocharged Stratified Injection (TSI) engine costs $1,200-$ 1,600, while the Aquarius engine will likely cost less than half that amount. The generator could enter the market around 2020, with customers able to purchase it in department stores like Ace, Walmart and Target.

Dating back to the mid-1800s, the internal combustion engine has undergone incremental change, said Fridman, but Aquarius promises to turn the engine upside down, with far greater energy efficiency, using a greater proportion of the fuel it burns up to generate actual power.

" The potential efficiency of the engine is above 40%," said Fridman, "while the industry standard remains around 15-20%, with the rest of the energy wasted [as] heat. If there's a boutique Formula One [even 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 on gasoline.

It is still unclear how much it would cost to set up a factory to produce these engines on a commercial scale, a prohibitive cost for automakers seeking to transition away from the traditional combustion engine and more towards electric cars. It is possible that with more countries seeking to cut their CO2 emissions, the drive towards energy efficiency would 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 in the past three years, and it expects to raise another $20 million of funding.

Not every house has a backyard or front yard," said Gal Fridman, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Aquarius Engines-- an Israeli firm which seeks to transform the design and operation of the internal combustible engine, shifting it away from the heavy and bulky piston-driven machine with myriad moving parts.

Ditching the classic multiple-piston engine which rotates to turn the wheels, Aquarius instead offers a horizontal-moving, single-piston cylinder that generates energy. The new Aquarius engine weighs only 10.5 kg and contains less than 20 parts, with one moving piston that oscillates left-to-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 90-150kg.

It's not a commercial engine that can be made in mass volume."