Green Tech: Lynn Mueller of SHARC Energy On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact On The Environment
An Interview With Jilea Hemmings
We have pioneered the wastewater energy transfer (WET) technology that recovers and recycles thermal energy from multi-family and commercial buildings warmed wastewater to preheat a holding tank for the building’s next needs for hot water. Our system is installed where wastewater exists the building and it basically extracts the heat before it’s lost into the sewer. Intelligently recycling the heat to reduce cost, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Mueller.
Lynn Mueller, a recipient of Clean50 Lifetime Achievement Awards is the CEO & President of Vancouver-based SHARC Energy, a unique, multi-award winning clean energy company that has developed a patented Wastewater Energy Transfer system that recovers heat from waste water going down the drain to significantly reduce costs, energy consumption and greenhouse gases. SHARC has been perfecting the science of wastewater energy recovery for over a decade and the technology is actively used by customers ranging from energy districts in Denver, Seattle and Vancouver to residential and commercial buildings around the globe. Lynn’s personal mission is, “Do all he can to make the world more livable for his family and others.”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up on a family farm in Alberta, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The closest town was five miles away in Hoadley. I was the youngest of six children. We were probably on the poorer side of the scale. We didn’t go hungry, but we lived on the ‘cream cheque’ that was about $20 a week, not much for a large family. My parents were just hard-working people, who did their best for us.
My parents grew up during the depression and I heard stories all the time about not throwing anything, away reusing everything if possible, and making things last, all this left an impression on me. I’ve spent my whole life trying to live by those principles, to be sustainable. Living on a farm, when we didn’t have something, you had to build it. I come from a long line of blacksmiths and inventors, so l learnt at an early age how to invent and build things.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been fortunate because so many smart people have taken the time to tell me what they know. Aside from my mother and father, if I had to pick one person it would be my Grade 3 teacher, Mrs. Fowler.
I was a challenging student with a very short attention span. A lot of teachers didn’t like me, but with the support and guidance of Mrs. Fowler, I went from being terrible to an honour student, all within the span of one year. She taught me that If I was determined I could achieve anything I want.
Can you please give us your favorite ‘Life Lesson Quote’? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad was one of the smartest guys I knew. He was always challenging us to think and giving us problems to solve.
One thing he used to say was, “If you’re born to hang, you’ll never have to worry about drowning.”
The ‘hanging’ part was just theatrics, but the underlying message was to enjoy your life because you have very little control over it.
You are a successful business leader. Which character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example?
Because l was a kid growing up on a farm, with little resources or money, l learnt quickly that simple is best. So, everything that I do is simple and practical. I focus on solving problems and on building simple things that work. Keep it simple.
I’ve also been deaf for most of my life, which most people would consider a major downfall, but l turned it into a positive. Because l couldn’t hear what other people were saying, l had to develop my own method of doing things. For example — the method I developed to do math calculations probably doesn’t make sense to anybody else, but it works for me. It has helped me solve incredibly complex calculations in my head, such as instantly calculating heat transfer when talking to a room full of engineers.
When we first developed the SHARC wastewater energy transfer system to recover and reuse the thermal energy from the sewer, everyone was amazed at how simple it is and wondered why no one else thought about it before. We just built a practical and simple solution to move heat out of the sewer and reuse it to heat and cool buildings. It really was, that simple.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on the planet and the environment. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
The main problem I was trying to solve was how to extract and recycle the thermal energy that’s in warmed wastewater to support the decarbonization of the building sector.
What many people don’t know is that just like solar, wind or hydro; warmed wastewater is a significant source of renewable energy. All over the world, we’re building high-rises with incredibly stringent energy standards for everything from windows and doors to building envelopes — but then we allow half of the energy used in the building every day to flow out of the sewer pipe. In the western world, each person uses 225+ litres of water every day and half of that water is heated. When we take a shower, do a load of laundry, or wash dishes, all that water, which we spend so much money heating, goes down the drain. All the thermal energy that is in the warmed wastewater is completely wasted; it is literally flushed down the drain. Each year we are dumping billions of dollars of energy down the sewer. We can now recover and reuse it, and the energy that is extracted can be used in perpetuity.
In 2020, the emissions from commercial and residential buildings were responsible for 13% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in North America and burning fossil fuels for space heating accounts for the largest share of these emissions. In the effort to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint of the buildings and to support achieving the goal of net-zero carbon emission by 2050, cities, states and provinces across North America and Europe are looking at sustainable options to reduce and replace the use of fossil fuels in buildings. The technology SHARC Energy has developed can support this transition in a very efficient and cost-effective way. Our wastewater energy transfer systems (WET) has a proven record of reducing carbon emissions and is a sustainable option to replace the use of fossil fuels in buildings.
How do you think your technology can address this?
We have pioneered the wastewater energy transfer (WET) technology that recovers and recycles thermal energy from multi-family and commercial buildings warmed wastewater to preheat a holding tank for the building’s next needs for hot water. Our system is installed where wastewater exists the building and it basically extracts the heat before it’s lost into the sewer. Intelligently recycling the heat to reduce cost, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Only heat from the sink and shower drains transfers into our closed-loop system –wastewater, gray water, and freshwater never mix. And since it’s a heat pump at its core, the SHARC system can also work in reverse, cooling a building by moving its heat into the wastewater system. Recovering energy rather than trying to create new heat is four times more efficient this enables property owners and housing cooperatives to reduce their costs of conventional utility services and can entitle them to government-funded, carbon offset programs
Our PIRANHA Series, best-suited for stand-alone buildings is supporting several residential complexes, hospitals, hotels, micro-breweries & distilleries, commercial laundry and community activity centers around the globe to reduce costs, energy consumption & greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Some of the examples of how our system is helping our customers meet their sustainability goals include -
· Seven35 Building in North Vancouver reduced CO2 emissions to just 669 from 68,000 and its annual energy cost by $10,000+.
· Lake Louise Inn hotel in Alberta reduced the laundry water heating energy demand by as much as 45% and propane requirement by 32,000 litres per year.
· Our system installed in the 303 Battery Project in Seattle, contributed to the residential tower being the first multifamily tower in the world certified as Net Zero Energy by the International Living Future Institute
· Sustainable Living Innovations, known for building some of the world’s most carbon-neutral residential buildings recently selected SHARC’s PIRANHA and PIRANHA HC WET Systems for Six New Projects in design or under construction.
SHARC Series, our industrial-sized WET system installed or in process of being installed in District Energy projects in Vancouver, Seattle and Denver are great examples of how densely populated cities can capture sewer heat utilizing WET systems to decarbonize hot water and space heating.
These are just a few examples, imagine how much greenhouse gas can be eliminated from the buildings if the use of wastewater energy transfer systems is installed or mandated in all the buildings. Recognizing the environmental and economic benefits of this technology, we have already received tremendous interest from construction companies and District Energy around the globe and are confident that wastewater energy transfer systems will become the system of choice for all buildings in the future.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I knew in my own home we were using approx. $1200 worth of natural gas for heating hot water. Basically, we are spending all this money on heating the water, and then we are throwing it down the drain along with all the energy in it. And that is only one home.
When I did a quick calculation of every home in the world, and realized it was trillion dollars’ worth of energy that is being thrown away, I knew right then, we must come up with a solution to recover and reuse that heat. This inspired me to come out of retirement and put my inventor hat on and that’s how SHARC Energy was born. We weren’t the first people to try to make sewage heat recovery work, just the first ones who did it right. We were stubborn enough to think that we could create an industry from the sewer line.
The heat discarded in sewers is also causing ocean temperature to rise, leading to more intense hurricanes, heavier rainfall, and snowstorms. In the US alone 350 billion kilowatt hours worth of hot water is discarded annually which is enough energy to melt the equivalent of 11,000 Empire State Buildings’ worth of ice. I have experienced climate change firsthand, in my travels to the far north installing refrigeration systems for the Hudson Bay Company I visited Inuit villages where the winter temperatures used to drop down to minus 50 or minus 60 degrees, now some of these villages are underwater.
Experiencing climate change firsthand, I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines, I wanted to use my knowledge and expertise to find a solution to help fight climate change. I have four children and three granddaughters, and my personal mission is to do what I can to make the world more livable for them and others.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social / environmental impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
· A willingness to learn:I know there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than me and I’m happy to learn from them.
· Know your story: Originally, we framed SHARC’s technology as simply being able to provide cheap energy, but then we realized it’s much more than that, “We’re saving the world!” That’s an honest message and it rings true with everyone we meet.
· Don’t get down in the weeds: Not everyone needs to know the technical information to understand the final product. They don’t want blueprints and they don’t need to hear about all the struggles and setbacks you suffered while trying to create your solution. All they need to know is that it works and how it can benefit them.
· Make failure your friend: It’s important to take failure in stride. I’ve made more than 500 inventions and to-date only one of them has worked out. So, you must be willing to play with low percentages.
· Focused passion: I love working with young people. I mentor about a dozen engineering students a year and I can tell almost immediately the ones who are going to succeed because they are passionate, motivated and purpose driven.
· Integrity is everything: Integrity and honesty are important to me. When we installed our first PIRANHA wastewater heat recovery system in the Seven35 building in North Vancouver we promised the owner we would always keep the building updated with latest the PIRANHA systembecause he gave us our first big break. So far, we have replaced the unit three times for free, even though the owner doesn’t care if we have installed the latest system or not. It means the world to me to keep my word.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I have always been inspired and impressed by Dr. Hadi Dowlatabadi, Canada Research Chair in Applied Mathematics of Global Change at Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at University of British Columbia.
He’s a genius — a very practical genius, which is my favorite kind.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.