Testing a solar water heater that runs on simplicity

It has not moving parts, runs solely on water pressure and exposur to the sun , and may save a bundle of money for homeowners in the future. For the last three winters Arthur D. Little Inc., the global engineering and management consulting company, has been testing a solar water heater on the roof of one of its research building here.

It's so simple, says Dr. Walter J. Cairns, head of ADL's invention-management program, "that it can be built and installed at about half the cost of a normal hot-water system." Simply, the system, invented by Dr. W. Peter Teagan, senior solar engineer at the complex, hasn't frozen, hasn't boiled, and has delivered plenty of hot water.

"It will supply 50 to 60 percent of the hot-water needs of an average New England family," Dr. Cairns asserts.

Many people think of solar-energy installations as high-cost toys that still require large amounts of input to perfect. Yet the Teagan solar-water-heating system is simplicity itself.

There is no moving fluid, Dr. Cairns explains, unlike other solar hot-water systems. A preheater is connected to the incoming-water line, which runs up onto the roof. The sun's heat is absorbed and converted to the ordinary hot-water tank.

In the wintertime the temperature of the water may reach 110 to 120 degrees F. But in the summer, "we see 211-degree water coming out of it," Dr. Cairns reports, "but it will not boil."

A proprietary device built into the system prevents water in the absorber-storage plate from freezing or boiling over, even in periods of low demand.

ADL funded the development of the device and now it plans to commercialize it.

It's just one more of the inventions, some of them energy-related, that are coming out of ADL.

ADL Enterprises -- or to put it another way, the invention-management arm of the company -- is one of 40 sections of the company and one of the most profitable. "We produce more profit for the company than quite a few other sections put together," asserts Dr. Cairns, who has been with ADL for more than 25 years.

"We make high-risk bets on technology-based market opportunities," he explains.

Dr. Cairns, who heads up the department, is a mechanical engineer. Arthur P. LaGace oversees anything in the chemical area; while Samuel W. Tishler is the electronics specialist.

In effect, ADL Enterprises acts as a client for all the other sections of ADL. It hires other ADL specialists to do studies, etc., paying market rates for their time.

Each year it gets some 500 "disclosures," or ideas, from people who think they may have something worthwhile. About 10 percent come from within ADL with the rest from the outside: universities, smaller corporations, and individuals.

Only a few are worth a look. "We sift out the ideas and end up with 10 to 15 a year," Dr. Cairns says.

An idea from within ADL stands a better chance than one from an outsider. If an idea works out, then the company looks into the best way to commercialize the project, usually by licensing.

Among its automotive activities, ADL's inventive arm is working on an air-conditioning compressor that is less noisy and more efficient than those in use today as well as an automotive vacuum pump that would be used for the operation of accessories in diesel-engine cars.

It is also working on two engines that may have application for vehicles of the future.

"Five years ago we were getting two engine inventions a week," Dr. Cairns says. That was after the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo brought American motorists up short as the cost of motor fuel shot up.

"This went on for more than a year," he adds. Some were only an idea on the back of an envelope, while others were more advanced and might even be illustrated with a lucite or plywood model.

"We got so many ideas that we finally had to draw the line and say we were no longer interested in evaluating raw engine ideas," Dr. Cairns reports. However, if someone has an engine that can be tested, "we are very interested in hearing about it."

ADL owns a company in england that does contract product-development work.

One of the more successful recent ideas is a projection (large screen) TV tube by Henry Kloss, a Boston inventor who has been in the audio-research field for many years. The tube was licensed to a Japanese company. This put a little capital into his company and gave him the incetive to get back into the business of making and selling tV sets instead of just making the tubes and licensing them.

With a major share of the projection TV business, he is competing head to head with the Japanese. "Mitsubishi and Panasonic will probably be using his tubes in their sets," Dr. Cairns says.

"It's an example of a very innovative product that is succeeding," says Dr. Tishler.

ADL's major competition is Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, and Research Corporation, which deals mainly with university technology and does not have its own

Yet despite the competition, some ideas are still handed around among the the trio. For example, Dr. Cairns says, "If we encounter a development that isn't really for us, we refer the inventor to one of the other two."

ADL does not work jointly on projects with the two other companies, however.

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