Contractors are Calling It a “Game Changer” for Geothermal
Energy Catalyst is an Albany-based manufacturer of geothermal heat pumps specializing in boiler-to-geothermal conversions. Founded in 2019, Energy Catalyst developed a heat pump that is lower cost and high efficiency for residential hot water heating systems. In the first of a two-part series, founder Matthew Desmarais sits down to talk us through their progress.
How did you get into geothermal heating and cooling?
Energy Catalyst started as a specialty geothermal contractor in converting homes with baseboard or radiators, but I quickly realized that this is a lot of work! After doing my first conversion “the hard way,” I knew that the real problem was the technology and product limitations. When our installation work slowed down during the pandemic, I knew it was time to start designing a better solution. Now our “double hybrid” heat pump allows any home, with any system, to switch to geothermal without a full overhaul.
What makes your heat pump different from other heat pumps?
A traditional boiler supplies heat at 180 degrees. If you switch directly to a heat pump, which has a maximum temperature of 120 degrees, the heating system (baseboards, radiators) loses about 75% of its thermal capacity (i.e., its ability to heat the room). We solve this problem by producing hot water and hot air at the same time, with the same machine. This is our “double hybrid” patent pending design. Now, we can reuse the existing infrastructure without being limited by it. By passing cold air across the refrigerant, we significantly increase the efficiency of the system by 30 to 40%.
You mentioned hot air, how does the hot air get into the house?
When installing our system in a typical house, we run ductwork in between the joists to supply hot air to the first finished floor. In most cases, we add three to four supply registers and one return. In heating mode, we blow a small volume of hot air so that the building does not feel drafty. Keep in mind, 85% or more of the heat is still coming from the home’s baseboards or radiators. The ductwork typically takes one to two days to install and allows us to provide the home with air filtration, air conditioning, and heating.
Your system does air conditioning too?
Yes, during the summer, the heat pump is very efficient at producing air conditioning. When our heat pump runs, hot water is a by-product and we use this to pre-heat the domestic hot water.
So, customers basically get free domestic hot water in the summertime?
Pre-heated hot water, but yes, it’s a nice bonus for our customers. A typical geothermal system might be able to do that, but it would require a separate tank and additional components. This feature is built into every one of our products. Our product is designed by contractors, for contractors.
Tell us about your demo sites.
We have five fully installed demonstration sites in the New York Capital Region. These range from 1,500 square feet to 6,000 square feet. We have a range of homes from new construction to a home built in the 1840s. Our first demo site is in a new construction residential property in Saratoga. It is the only home of our five sites that is new construction. Our prototype has exceeded our expectations for efficiency and performance.
Where do you go from here?
Our five demo sites are NYSERDA-sponsored. We will be receiving third-party verification of performance and efficiency from KW Engineering. We are officially launching our product in March 2022 for retail sale and offering contractor training sessions Q1 and Q2 2022. These training sessions will ensure there are reliable installers who know our product.
How could a reader get involved?
Come to our scheduled walkthroughs at our demonstration sites. Scheduled walkthroughs will take place 1/11/2022 in Saratoga, 1/13/22 in Hoosick Falls and 1/18/22 in Averill Park. We invite all who are interested to come check out our technology in action.
This winter, Energy Catalyst is offering a thermal capacity audit for residential properties. We will measure the thermal capacity of your home over the winter months in order to take the first step towards switching to geothermal. The audit costs $300 but the $300 will be applied as a credit towards an Energy Catalyst heat pump. Anyone interested can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 802-793-0863.