The Environmental Protection Agency has recognized two companies that have close associations with the Propane Education & Research Council for micro combined heat and power (microCHP) systems that heat a home while simultaneously producing electricity that can be consumed on site or sold to a local utility company.

As winners of the 2011 Energy Star Emerging Technology Award, the the ecopower microCHP cogeneration unit by Marathon Engine Systems in East Troy, Wisc., and the Freewatt microCHP system by ECR International in Utica, N.Y., are helping home and small commercial building owners, particularly in the Northeast, produce their own heat and electricity, reduce utility bills, and off-set purchases of coal-generated electricity. This emerging technology can reduce energy use and curb carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent to 30 percent.

While this technology has been successfully used in larger applications for many years, microCHP systems have only recently been commercialized for small-scale use in homes, apartment buildings, and small office buildings.

Receiving an award such as this doesn’t come out of the blue. This year’s winning microCHP systems met strict pre-requisites for efficiency, noise, emissions, and third party-verified performance. “Part of the prerequisite was that you had to have over a year of testing,” says Mike Monohan, Marathon’s sales and marketing manager who also handles all product applications and education. “We did two years of testing, up and down the East Coast from Maine to Pennsylvania. We’re coming out of that now and starting to set up distribution.”

Monohan, along with those he says have shown a “ton of interest” in the ecopower unit, admits that the concept is a no brainer.

“You’re going to use X amount of Btu in a space, whether that’s a pool, an apartment building, or a home,” he says. “Why not take the same thermal energy that you’re going to use anyway and make electricity on site? Standard power plants are only 30 to 40 percent efficient by the time they get the electron to you, and even nuclear power plants send about 50 to 60 percent of the heat up a cooling tower. Our unit makes electricity as a by-product and right on site.”

A no brainer, indeed.

The Propane Energy Update reported on the ecopower unit that was on display at the International Builders’ Show in January.

And stay tuned for a new CEU course about microCHP systems, scheduled for later this year.