‘Be your own utility

After test-marketing its energy-producing appliance in Europe for several years, Marathon Engine Systems of East Troy is ready to introduce its Ecopower Micro-CHP to American consumers and companies.

The engine manufacturer has sold its cost-saving appliance for residential and light industrial clients in Europe since 1996.

The appliance works much like a furnace. It hooks up like a furnace and produces heat like a furnace. However, the Marathon 5K engine that gives life to the combined heat and power system also produces electricity as a waste product, according to Gary Papas, the company’s vice president of engineering.

Once installed, the $12,000 Micro-CHP creates an immediate return on investment, Papas said.

"It allows each homeowner to be his or her own utility company and to support the local utility company by selling back the excess energy," Papas said.

Homes equipped with the Marathon 5K engines typically produce more electricity than they use, he said.

When a European house produces its own electricity, the energy used pays for itself and the excess comes back to the homeowner with a check from the utility company.

Marathon Engine may pursue similar arrangements with utilities in the United States.

"The Ecopower Micro-CHP has gained popularity in Europe because there are no wide expanses to build more power plants," Papas said. "It is not popular in the United States yet because we are not under the same constraints, and we are not given incentives. In some European countries, the federal government has an incentive program where they contribute a small payment for energy returned."

The Marathon 5K Engine powers the Ecopower Micro-CHP using natural gas or propane and was originally created by Milwaukee-based Briggs & Stratton Corp. in the mid-1980s.

Briggs & Stratton had partnered with York International to develop a home air conditioner that did not rely on electricity and had a small engine with a long life for it to be viable, according to Papas.

"It was called the Triathlon Unit, and it was sold and successful," said Papas. "But each company went in different directions, and they discontinued the line. The cost of electricity was not an issue in the early 1990s because the economy was good."

Papas said Marathon Engine Systems was formed when HyPro Inc., Waterford, invested in the engine technology of the discontinued line.

Gary Schildt, president of Hypro and Marathon Engine Systems, formed Marathon in 1996 and bought the rights to the technology. Marathon began working with Power Plus, a German manufacturer, which who assembles the Ecopower Micro-CHP.

Due to the success in Europe (more than 500 units installed), Papas said Marathon Engine Systems has been marketing the product in the United States since January. The company has started a test program with five to 10 units.

The first client to climb on board was Lynch Truck Center, Waterford. The Ecopower Micro-CHP currently heats and produces electricity for the company’s commercial sales and service facility.

The unit has only been installed since the first week in March, but Lynch Truck Center general manager Kurt Tetrie already is impressed.

"The Ecopower is now our primary unit for generating electricity when on, and it is also connected to the boiler as our primary source of heat," Tetrie said. "We have double the energy that we would have had if we continued to run the heat and electricity separately, and since the unit has been installed, we have noticed no change in the power of our heat and electricity."

The Marathon 5K Engine is unique in that it does not contribute to or cause pollution. It is quiet, usable for a homeowner and has 10 times the lifespan of a typical engine. According to Papas, the engine runs for 40,000 hours before its first rebuild and 4,000 hours before its first oil change.

"A standard model, for instance a lawnmower engine, will wear out after 4,000 hours and need an oil change after 200 hours," said Papas. "For comparison, if you put the Marathon 5K in a brand new car, put a brick on the gas pedal and let it run at top speed, the car will have gone the equivalent of 1.6 million miles before the engine dies."

Marathon Engine Systems has developed other environmentally friendly products using the power of the Marathon 5K Engine, including the Minotaur 2500, which is used for remote gas line gate valve operation and as a protectant on a natural gas line.

The company also is producing the Powerlast UPS, an uninterruptible power supply that can be used in remote areas.

The Ecopower Micro-CHP is the future of electricity, and it is logical to think one day the appliance will be available at retailers, Papas said.

Marathon Engine Systems consolidated its Waterford corporate office and its research and development facility in Shrewsbury, Pa., when it moved into a new facility at 2050 Energy Dr., East Troy, last June.

It will take another year-and-a-half or so to complete the adjustments, according to Papas, but once finished, Marathon Engine Systems could manufacture up to 50 units per day.

"The Marathon 5K Engine is a leap in technology that will be a marker in history as the turning point on how people generate and use energy," said Papas. "The product seems to have gone in the direction we predicted. The culture is changing in the United States. Little by little, people are becoming proactive. Right now, it is like the electric car, where there is a small group of people that see the benefit, but soon more will be in line for purchase."

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