Western, A-B Tech water heater project attracts notice of President Bush

CULLOWHEE – A federally funded effort by Western Carolina University and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College to develop a new type of energy-efficient water heater has attracted the attention of President George W. Bush.

During an energy conference March 9 in Columbus, Ohio, Bush called the project an example of the “creative technologies” the nation must utilize to decrease its dependence on foreign energy sources. Western and A-B Tech, working with an Etowah manufacturing company, delivered last week a prototype of the water heater to Battelle, a Columbus-based technology development company toured by Bush during the conference.

“I wanted to see what innovative ideas they had about energy conservation,” Bush said. “What were some of the true brains of America thinking about when it comes to encouraging energy conservation? I saw an efficient, affordable water heater than extracts heat from the air and converts it into energy that can warm your water in the shower. See, that’s energy conservation. The Department of Energy is supporting dozens of other creative technologies just like that one that will increase conservation.”

In the project, funded by a $420,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy through Oak Ridge National Laboratory, faculty and students from Western and A-B Tech are taking existing technology from Oak Ridge engineers and developing a new control system that combines elements of a home dehumidifier and water heater to achieve greater product reliability, flexibility of use and energy savings.

The prototype, developed by Western, A-B Tech and American Carolina Stamping Co. in Etowah, uses the heat energy generated by a dehumidifier circuit to heat water in a standard electric water heater tank, resulting in energy savings of about 50 percent, said Aaron Ball, associate professor of engineering technology at Western.

Funding for the project was secured through the assistance of U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor.