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Engineers from Thuringia are exploring alternatives and developing a combined heat and compressed air co-generation system.

20 November, 2018
Compressed Air at No Cost

The idiom “all hot air” definitely doesn’t apply to Michael Portwich. For this engineer from Mühlhausen in Thuringia, hot air was the exciting idea behind establishing his company three years ago. The company is called “altAirnative” – after a rocky start-up phase, it grew slowly, but is now being used successfully by its first clients – including WAGO in Sondershausen. But first, back to the beginning, because before there was an idea, there was a problem.

Compressed air is an expensive energy medium – the energy needed to compress the air is significant. “10 to 30 % of the energy costs of a company that works with compressed air are spent just on creating the energy medium,” says Portwich. The possible uses of compressed air are many and mostly indispensable. For example, industrial systems use compressed air for pneumatic drive systems and transport of bulk materials or fluids, since systems powered by compressed air are characterized by speed and precision. The heat energy that arises when air is compressed usually remains unused – money is vanishing into thin air, so to speak. Energy consultant Michael Portwich recognized this problem in his everyday work and, as an engineer, is used to not only recognizing problems, but also solving them. The obvious solution would be to simply make further use of the heat that is produced. Portwich went a step further, taking the entire process apart and reconceiving it from the ground up. The result was the idea for the first combined heat and compressed air co-generation system. “This isn’t rocket science – just thinking solutions through to their logical conclusion,” says Michael Portwich modestly, describing his company “altAIRnative.” But the idea behind the company is actually revolutionary. Unlike in normal air compression, heat is not the waste product. It works the other way around: When heat is generated by the co-generation system, compressed air is the byproduct. “Customers get compressed air for free, so to speak,” says Portwich, summarizing the economic advantage of the co-generation system. But that’s not all. Portwich wanted to go one step further and conceived of an alternative method for driving the systems as well, which reduces CO2 significantly. Instead of using electricity, the co-generation system generates heat with a gas-driven combustion engine, at a temperature from 90 to 108 °C, which is available for industrial use. A highly efficient screw compressor is driven via a coupling at the same time. The air compressed to up to 13 bar results more or less as a byproduct. Since this method of air compression does not require electricity, there are no high electricity costs. “I’m known as a lateral thinker, and when I’m sold on an idea, I look for allies,” says Portwich, managing director, describing the start of the process of establishing his company. He found one such ally right at the start in his second managing director, Jens Tiede, a mechanical engineer.

» This Isn’t Rocket Science – Just Thinking Solutions through to Their Logical Conclusion «

Michael Portwich, Managing Director of altAIRnative

In 2016, the two engineers developed a prototype of their idea and decided to explore alternative methods of energy generation. “The name ‘altAIRnative’ functions as our manifesto,” emphasizes Tiede. Besides his business partner Tiede, Portwich was able to convince two other partners of his idea: AITEC Holding GmbH and enertec Kraftwerke GmbH, which serve as shareholders of altAIRnative GmbH. The two companies combine exactly the technical knowledge that comes together in Portwich and Tiede’s combined heat and compressed air co-generation system. While AITEC Holding GmbH plans, designs and implements industrial systems, including those for compressed air technology, enertec Kraftwerke GmbH manufacturers CHPs.

» We are deliberately seeking to explore new paths, and the TOPJOB® S with lever is another component of our innovative product. «

Michael Portwich, Managing Director of altAIRnative

WAGO is now not only altAIRnative’s first customer, but also its partner. When Portwich and Tiede encountered the new TOPJOB® S with lever at Hannover Messe in spring of 2018, it was immediately clear to both engineers that the new WAGO products would fit perfectly in the heat/compressed air co-generation system’s control cabinet, since, especially at the point of transition to the customer, the system’s connection must be straightforward and self-explanatory. “We are deliberately seeking to explore new paths, and the TOPJOB® S with lever is another component in our innovative product. Using it is intuitive and doesn’t require tools. That makes it easy for our customers,” explains the engineer from Mühlhausen. Portwich’s partner Tiede adds: “for us, it is important to have a closed product portfolio in the control cabinet. It’s also essential for the system to be able to go on line immediately upon delivery, since that saves our customers hard cash.” Besides the quality of the product, the two founders also laud WAGO’s service in their collaboration. Portwich describes the cooperation thus: “WAGO’s field service is really brilliant and helps us meet many challenges. It’s just fun to work with them.”

Author: Lena Kalmer, Communication Manager, WAGO

Reimagining Compressed Air

Michael Portwich and his business partner Jens Tiede had a vision. They dubbed it altAIRnative and implemented it using WAGO TOPJOB® S Rail-Mounted Terminal Blocks with levers. The video illustrates why that’s good for the planet and good for altAIRnative’s customers.

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