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Published: Thursday, 11/8/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Unit produced by Walbridge firm makes electricity, helps heat pool

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
This modular co-generation unit is to produce continuous electricity to the university’s data center. Plus, heat from the turbines will help keep the pool at the nearby rec center warm. This modular co-generation unit is to produce continuous electricity to the university’s data center. Plus, heat from the turbines will help keep the pool at the nearby rec center warm.
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To fully protect its computer data center from power outages, University of Toledo officials realized they needed to add more on-site generation.

“We were going to increase our backup power capacity so if something happened to the power of the building, we’d still have our computer center up and running,” said Michael Green, UT’s director of energy management.

“All our online classes would still be there. Everybody’s interconnectivity to their UT Web page would still be there. For us, this computer center, it’s critical to the campus.”

But instead of a traditional back-up generator as it has now, the university got a unit able not only to power the whole computer center but also to heat the pool.

Made by GEM Energy Inc. in Walbridge, the modular power system doesn’t look like much from the outside. But tucked inside are four natural-gas turbines that spool up to 96,000 revolutions per minute to generate 260 kilowatts of electricity, providing continuous power to the university’s critical data center.

Instead of being vented off into the air, the heat those turbines produce is captured and will be used to heat and cool the building as well as to heat the pool in the nearby recreation center.

GEM officials say the first-of-its kind unit — built at the firm’s application facility in Toledo — has great potential to be put to work backing up other data centers, at universities, or at hospitals.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity, and this is part of the educational process,” said Sam Brewer, general manager at GEM.

Because it’s a modular unit, it can be loaded up and shipped anywhere, providing reliable power in a matter of days.

GEM was host to what it called a critical power and data summit Wednesday in Toledo, bringing in international experts and more than 100 users of heat and power technology from across the country.

In addition to seeing UT’s modular unit, the group toured other sites equipped with microturbines, including the Toledo Museum of Art and the Huntington Center.

GEM President Hussien Shousher said data centers’ energy needs and associated costs have grown rapidly over the last decade and are expected to continue going up.

“This is a huge energy demand,” he said. “This technology has the ability to save 50 percent of that cost.”

Mr. Shousher also said the natural-gas microturbines are more reliable, more efficient, and have much cleaner air emissions than traditional power sources.

GEM officials say the unit’s four basketball-sized turbines are similar to jet engines.

Mr. Brewer said the air-bearing technology they’re using came from NASA and was commercialized in the early 1990s. For its modular unit, GEM added batteries as an additional fail-safe should the turbines go down.

The unit at UT is in final testing and should be online soon. The university still has to build the pipeline that will take heated water to the recreation center.

The project cost about $2 million, Mr. Green said, with half coming from an Ohio Third Frontier grant.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134



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