Harnessing the sun's power
- by Art Irwin
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, a UNESCO World Heritage community, is well known for its beautiful historic homes, a history of shipbuilding and of course, the famous Bluenose, the fastest sailing ship of its type in the world. In 1888, there were nearly 5,000 fishermen that called Lunenburg County home. There were 191 bankers (schooners) that caught millions of pounds of fish annually.
If that introduction creates a bit of confusion, rest assured that I will continue to focus on the subject of heating. In fact, I am going to begin with the name of a manufacturer – Lunenburg Industrial Foundry & Engineering Ltd. – that developed its reputation beginning in 1891 by manufacturing cast iron wood stoves for houses, boats and camps, one of which was the well known “Sardine”. Their pattern makers also created many elegant kitchen and parlor stoves. Thousands of their Lunenburg one-lunger single cylinder make-and-break marine engines were sold to fishermen far and wide.
A reputation for quality has allowed Lunenburg Foundry to survive two world wars and become successful in manufacturing products that have served local and world wide marine and industrial markets.
Mirrors reflect and amplify heat from the sun.
Pioneer heating manufacturer
My first exposure to the Lunenburg Foundry name, after I graduated from heating school back in the days of yesteryear, occurred whenever I walked into a church or school basement. The massive warm air furnace was either Gurney by American Standard, Anthes Imperial or Lunenburg Foundry. The Lunenburg product had a much heavier heat exchanger than many manufacturers. Throughout the years, the popularity of these furnaces diminished with the introduction of more options in the hot water heating marketplace. But Lunenburg Foundry had no problem competing with the nationals and multinationals.
The Kinley name has had a long association with the Foundry. J. J. Kinley was president in 1912. He later became town mayor and was elected to the provincial legislature in 1916. In 1935, he was elected to the House of Commons and appointed to the Senate in 1945. His son J. James Kinley, Jr. then became president of Lunenburg Foundry and later lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia. His son Peter is now president and CEO of the company. Like their father, Peter and his brother Edward are professional engineers.
Today, Lunenburg Foundry is ISO 9001:2008 registered and continues to be very busy with ship repairs. It specializes in propulsion systems, manufacturing propellers, machining and casting services, steering systems and marine engine sales and service and casting brass items large and small.
A new idea
Known for their “never sitting idle” reputation, Peter Kinley thrives on challenges. Diversity and flexibility are deeply embedded in the culture of the business.
And a simple thought has become a scientific breakthrough in the world of solar. One evening while Kinley and his wife were watching the opening of the Turin Winter Olympics on television, the lighting of the ceremonial flame gave him an inspiration. All of the flames were fired from one torch on Mount Olympus. The thought process began to evolve. He wondered if they can raise something like that to ignition temperature, why couldn’t he use that to melt metal?
With the high cost of fuel oil, he wanted to find a renewable source of energy for the foundry to reduce his energy costs. There were several solar projects in the works, but the temperatures fell short of those needed to melt metal in a foundry.
They built their first prototype – Alpha – in 2006, using polished stainless steel sheets as mirrors to amplify the sun’s rays. On their first attempt they hit 407 degrees Celsius and melted babbitt, a metal made from lead and zinc that is used as a bearing surface. Kinley then contacted the National Research Council to see if others were involved similar research, but it appeared that his organization was the only one worldwide. He then realized his findings had a great potential.
Which melts the metal in the crucible. (Photos by Art Irwin)
Dual mirror system
The project has been named Prometheus, for the Greek mythological character that stole fire from Zeus and gave it to people. The name was adopted as a code word for the project for patent protection. In 2008, Peter Kinley was granted a patent for Prometheus’s ‘Kinley Dual Mirror System.’
The simple two-stage method captures the sun’s energy on a large primary mirror and reflects the sun’s rays into a smaller or secondary parallel mirror. From there, the light is reflected back into a solar concentrator device. The mirrors are multi-positional and each can be moved with a micro-electric logic controller with a touch screen. By widening the focus, this can control the spread of incident light, which enables them to increase or decrease its intensity.
The Foundry’s project team has also developed a water heating system that can be plugged into the concentrator platform and produces super heated steam. When casting metal, the raw metal is placed in a crucible sitting on the concentrator platform and heated to the melting temperature and poured from the crucible into a mold.
When heating water, a wet receiver is used which is a metal manifold – a metal block or heat exchanger with internal passageways – and is placed in the same location. The water is heated as it passes through the manifold.
As they continue to fine-tune their progress, project staff have been working with Dalhousie University in Halifax to create a computer model of the temperatures that the current system, Gamma II, has generated. It has reached recorded temperatures of 1,800C, but it is felt the temperatures actually get much higher. This has not been proven because the platinum thermocouples used to measure the temperature can only withstand temperatures up to 1,755C after which they melt. There were signs of vaporization when the Gamma II melted iron recently, and that happens at 2,800C. They are now looking at the potential to commercialize the Gamma II by making it more automated and to provide solar heat in houses by heating water for hydronic systems.
Kinley and project engineer Garrett Dooley are also working with the Faculty of Engineering at Dalhousie University on a method to optimize the curvature of the mirrors to achieve a tighter focal point – resulting in increased temperatures. They are also working with the National Research Council, the University of New Brunswick and Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures (formerly Alberta Research Council), which has partnered with Lunenburg Foundry to test and verify the company’s findings, as well as provide a demonstration location for potential investors.
A fourth stakeholder from India purchased the first production model, which was shipped to them in February this year.