Steam is an effective way to move heat from a power plant throughout a system. But when steam traps fail, the vapor escapes into the atmosphere without doing its job, and more steam has to be made in its place.
“This is functionally equivalent to leaving a window open in January in your apartment and having to compensate,” explains Peter Owens, founder of SteamIQ.
That’s a big problem, because 10 to 30 percent of steam traps fail in a given year. And we’re using massive amounts of steam: industrial processes—which are responsible for 39 percent of U.S. energy use—devote 70 percent of their fuel to steam.
Many utilities offer incentives for manually checking steam traps annually, since it’s in their best financial interest to have them functioning, but if a steam trap fails shortly after the inspection, it could be broken for almost a year.
When Owens started working for a steam trap manufacturer, he knew there had to be a better way.
“This is the most inefficient thing you can imagine, but what was even more frustrating was knowing that even if you test this thing in January, it might fail in February,” Owens says. “The most bang for your buck, if you want to be energy efficient, is to fix steam traps. And that’s not hyperbole.”
While at the steam trap manufacturer, Owens started developing an inexpensive ultrasonic sensor to keep tabs on steam traps. He spun out the company as SteamIQ in October 2017.
SteamIQ has about 40 customers, with a total of over 1,000 monitors deployed. The company works with a variety of organizations, including universities, but has found the biggest market in customers that use steam in their industrial processes—such as food, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and refineries.
“Failed steam traps cause process disruption, and while many industrial users are concerned about energy efficiency, their primary concern is shipping product,” Owens explains.
SteamIQ is in the process of developing its second-generation model, which will have a longer battery life—12 to 15 years, versus the current product’s maximum of seven—water hammer detection, and differential temperature measurement.
Owens stumbled onto Greentown Labs shortly after he spun out SteamIQ, when he saw CEO Emily Reichert speak at a National Grid energy efficiency event in 2017. He’s taken advantage of the resources and connections available at Greentown, and recalls how Keysight Technologies’ equipment helped him find a flaw in SteamIQ’s battery system and increase the battery life from two years to five to seven years.
“This place is amazing,” Owens says. “It’s everything I wanted in an incubator.”
Greentown Labs is a community of bold, passionate entrepreneurs creating solutions for today’s biggest climate and environmental challenges. Located in Somerville, Mass., Greentown Labs is the largest cleantech incubator in North America, operating a 100,000 sq. ft. campus comprised of prototyping and wet lab space, shared office space, a machine shop, electronics lab, and a curated suite of programs and resources. Greentown Labs is home to more than 100 startups and has supported more than 230 since its inception.