The Bradenton Times Published Friday, April 1, 2011 3:00 am by Dennis Maley
BRADENTON – Michael Pratt used to work on much bigger deals. After retiring from a successful career in book publishing, his energy efficiency consulting projects would typically range from $250,000 to as much as a million and require nearly three years to recover the costs, not to mention the approval of fickle corporate boards who often lacked the vision to see the value in such long-term investments.
Through his brother, Pratt learned about the EndoCube, a simple yet revolutionary invention that seemed as though it could transform the food service industry and still go on to have almost unlimited applications in reducing energy costs across a broad swath of industries.
EndoCube is a perfectly simple idea that addresses the improvement of one of our greatest (though least considered) energy demands – refrigeration. Most people are shocked to learn that about 1/5 of all commercially produced energy in the world is spent on keeping things cold to preserve their utility. From food that would otherwise spoil to medications and even things like blood and organs, cold storage is vital to our survival.
British food safety engineers originally developed the science behind the EndoCube while searching for a way to reduce food spoilage and the associated sicknesses it caused. It worked, but it wasn’t until they field tested the invention that a major ancillary benefit was discovered: it saved energy – lots of it! Part of the problem is that a refrigerator or freezer thermostat measures the temperature of the air inside of the unit, rather than that of the food. The two often differ and while it’s the food temperature that is trying to be maintained, the compressor is still working according to the air, as it does in an air conditioning unit.
We’ve all been yelled at by our mothers for standing in front of the fridge with the door open, wavering over what to eat, while she reminded us that she didn’t own stock in the utility company. Why? Because when you open the door, the warmer air enters, tricking the thermostat, which thinks it must begin another cooling cycle, but the food temperature is still the same and isn’t likely to change provided it’s closed again in reasonable time.
Now imagine a commercial fridge or freezer at your favorite restaurant on a busy night. It can’t help but be opened time and again as ingredients are pulled as needed. Imagine all of the wasted cycles as the fridge’s compressor constantly false starts. EndoCube is a small attachment that is affixed to the unit’s thermostat. A non-toxic gel mimics the composition of food (fish in particular) and reflects the temperature of the food to the thermostat, rather than the constantly changing air.
In a case study with Chic-fil-A, their refrigerators ran 65 percent less cycles, drastically reducing energy costs (McDonald’s and Wendy’s achieved similar success). Pratt explained that for restaurants, refrigeration is nearly half of their overhead and the single biggest factor that can be improved. With energy demands constantly rising as sources become less plentiful and more expensive, improving efficiency is vital. Platt has focused his attention on other local restaurants who he sees as the ideal candidate for EndoCubes services.
“The biggest challenge for someone who runs a restaurant is inventory control. They need to make sure they’re not having leakage through employees, and that they’re not losing too much food through spoilage,” he explained. “Things are going to happen, be it weather or some other unknown that’s going to mean that some of that inventory is going to have to stay refrigerated for longer than planned from time to time. If less of it spoils, that’s a major cost factor. Then consider that 45 percent or so of their overhead is owed to refrigeration costs, which are now being improved 10-30 percent at the same time.”
Pratt says that with rising food and energy prices, combined with a slow economic recovery, there’s not a restaurant that couldn’t benefit from making those two dynamics more efficient. The best part is that unlike the large scale projects he’s worked on in the past, EndoCubes price point makes it a very small investment that is quickly recovered in savings.
In addition to reduced spoilage, the more improved cycle length is like taking a car from city traffic to highway miles. Starting the cooling cycle not only requires the most energy, but it’s also the most stressful on the compressor. Therefore, more false starts means more repairs and shorter lifespan for one of their most expensive replacement parts – the compressor on a commercial cooling system can cost $10,000 or more to replace!
Pratt hopes to make an impact with small businesses in the area, where he’s talking directly with the owner about something near and dear to their heart – their bottom line. He says that if corporate American board rooms have demonstrated anything over the last couple of years, it’s that they are not very good at being economically responsible with other people’s money and for that reason, he’s really looking forward to talking with other local entrepreneurs like himself.
Pratt’s company, “Powertech Energy,” is currently putting together a local sales force and will be offering the EndoCube product to area businesses very soon. Pratt points out that EndoCubes local applications go beyond the food industry. From assisted living facilities, to school cafeterias, to hospitals and even morgues, many businesses rely on refrigeration to function, making it a major cost factor to their success.
In terms of green energy, by reducing energy usage to preserve those necessities, EndoCubes science can actually play a major role in our long-term energy plan, especially as its applications expand. Imagine the impact on an increasingly tight world food supply if a significant amount of food is spared the fate of turning rotten before it is consumed, not to mention the food safety impacts for which it was originally designed. Meanwhile, I’d count on seeing lots of these little black boxes in commercial fridges in the Manatee area.