When Grey Is Green: Mining For Energy Savings In Tampa Bay

Right now in the middle of August, especially here in Florida, air conditioners are running, keeping people comfortable and cooling buildings and cars. But, what they are also doing is blowing an enormous amount of wasted energy into the atmosphere.

If you have ever put your hand above an air conditioner unit, you can feel it leaving the system in the form of hot air. This hot air is absorbed by the atmosphere and wasted, adding to Florida's tropical heat blanket.  

Luckily, there is a way to harness this wasted energy and use it to power appliances in the home and the workplace while also saving money on energy. That is what Olive Tree Energy is all about.

Olive Tree Energy is a "green" energy company here in the Tampa Bay region that is in the business of recycling everyday wasted energy and using it to boost efficiency in commonly used appliances.

Jay Fechtel of The Fechtel Company, a builder of custom homes, and Tom Hebert, founder of 3H Contracting, started Olive Tree Energy in 2009 to recover previous patents of Hebert's from other companies.

Hebert holds 17 issued patents, five pending patents and 167 inventions still without patents all related to energy conservation. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in thermodynamics.

Over the years, many companies have tried to get rich quick off Hebert's ideas -- some with his permission, some without.

He met Fechtel through the private contracting industry -- Fechtel was using some of Hebert's technology in the homes he was building -- and soon learned that the two of them shared many of the same ideas about serving people and about serving God.

The two agreed to start Olive Tree Energy to recover Hebert's patents and produce their technology the right way.

"There's a lot of stuff out there being touted as 'green,' which really isn't 'green' depending on how you define the word," Fechtel says.

"Green means allowing the earth to breathe, not sucking the life out of it," Hebert explains. "We're destroying our own planet, so anything that can be done to reduce what we're doing as far as burning fuels, whether it's to conserve or come up with alternative energy sources, this is what we need to do to make this planet survivable, sustainable."

And through his ideas, Hebert tries to do just that.

Focusing On Grey Energy

"We are focused on helping existing equipment and existing buildings function more efficiently, but we have a way of doing it that is sort of under the radar," Fechtel says. "It's something that we don't feel is being considered by a lot of people. It's called grey energy."

Basically, grey energy is the energy that is given off as waste by everyday appliances; perfectly good energy discharged into the atmosphere and forgotten about.

Fechtel cites an ice machine as an example.

Ice machines are commonly used in the restaurant and hotel industries. The machines, Fechtel explains,  run for extended periods of time, often nonstop even when the business is closed. Hotel ice machines run 24/7 so night owl guests can always walk down the hall in their pajamas and enjoy ice in their drinks.

The entire time the ice machine is running, it is also producing "melt water" or very cold water that is constantly being melted to accomplish the ice-producing cycle. This 30 degree to 40 degree water is going straight down the drain in most instances.

At the same time, the ice machine is removing heat from the water so that it will turn to ice. The machine stores this heat in the refrigeration system inside the machine. Normally, this hot refrigerant gas is air-cooled, or blown straight out of the machine and into the atmosphere. If you've ever walked into the ice machine room at a hotel, you probably noticed that it was pretty warm; that is because the heated refrigerant is being blown into the room, causing the temperature to rise.

Hebert came up with technology called Ice Plus to produce more ice using less energy.

The Ice Plus technology is retrofitted or built into the machine, taking the cold "melt water" and running it through a heat exchange process. During this process, the almost freezing water is used to cool down the hot gas that was used to absorb the heat from the ice-production cycle. When the hot gas refrigerant goes back into the ice-production cycle, it is much cooler, absorbing the heat out of the water more efficiently. This allows the machine to produce more ice for the same amount of energy or the same amount of ice for a considerably smaller amount of energy. Since the machine uses less power to produce the ice, the owner's power bill goes down, as well as the business's carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

Seems Logical Enough, Right?

They have another technology that makes even more sense called the Zero Energy Water Heating System. The name says it all.

This simple concept has been around for a while, but Olive Tree has taken the existing technology and worked the bugs out.

"Heat recovery has been around for a long time, but they all used a pump," explains Hebert. "I figured out a way to apply physics to them to allow heat to be the driving force to actually cause the pumping action without having to have an auxiliary pump. That eliminates the possibility of mechanical failure."

"Basically everything I come up with is applied physics," Hebert says. "God has just given me a way to look at things in a special way."

Through a heat-recovery process, the Zero Energy system takes the wasted heat from residential air conditioning units and uses it to heat water.

That's right. Keeping your house cool during the hot summer will keep your showers just as hot using no power in the process.

Olive Tree also boasts technology for large commercial businesses in the form of their ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilation) Max Energy Recovery System. This system works with big air conditioning units on top of buildings by trapping the wasted exhaust air and condensate water from the building and using it to cool the hot refrigerant gas used by the A/C unit.

This technology is used nationwide in office buildings, schools and military bases, including MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Though it seems like businesses and large corporations would jump at the chance to cut back on spending and improve efficiency, these technologies aren't catching on as quickly as most would imagine. Because of this, Olive Tree Energy plans to keep improving and perfecting their technologies to show people that they can make a difference.

"Our big ideas right now are focused on improving our existing technologies and being creative about how to integrate those into the world," says Fechtel. "We want to have technologies, products and claims that we can demonstrate with hard evidence."

"We prove our technology, we stand behind what we say it does and if there are any arguments about it, we will research it and find out for sure what the truth is," says Hebert.

Matthew Wiley is a University of South Florida journalism graduate who hopes to go on to get his master's degree. He spends his time writing out of his North Tampa apartment, skateboarding around the Tampa Bay region and playing guitar. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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