A Recipe for Innovation

QSBRI staff working on product in a lab
Photo courtesy Greg Black Photography

Call it a recipe for innovation: take one professor with ideas but limited time and resources to market them, add two entrepreneurs, and the result is QSBR Innovations Inc., a firm on the verge of bringing two exciting new energy-related technologies to market: Passive Back Flow (PBF) and Integral Stagnation Control (ISC).

With their ability to heat and chill fluids almost instantaneously, heat exchangers are a key element in hot water systems especially in today’s energy-efficient, heat pumps, boilers, solar thermal and on-demand water heaters. But they suffer a major drawback: scale caused by heating water can build up in them quickly, reducing their energy effectiveness and ultimately causing them to fail.

Professor Stephen Harrison, director of the Solar Calorimetry Laboratory at Queen's University, has patented two simple ideas called Passive Back Flow, for keeping heat exchangers clean and Integral Stagnation Control, for controlling temperatures in solar thermal collectors.  He knew the technologies had tremendous potential but did not have the time or resources to take them to the global market on his own.  

Enter Bob Stinson, a Queen’s MBA graduate from the pharmaceutical business and son Ben, a graduate of Queen’s who had recently returned to Kingston. While doing work for PARTEQ Innovations, Bob came across a solar product put out by London-based EnerWorks, which used the two technologies developed and patented by Professor Harrison. “We sat down with Steve,” says Ben Stinson, “and told him we can do a lot more with these technologies.  We can sell them independently in different markets around the world.”

At first, the partners saw their job as bringing their concepts to likely manufacturers, and licensing the technologies. They quickly learned that this wasn’t enough. “The attitude was that, ‘Well, our product is perfect when it leaves our plant, so why would we need this?’” Instead, the QSBR Innovation partners decided to end-run the producers, by going to actual users -- consumers but more importantly, distributors and installers. Get them interested, create a demand, and the manufacturers would follow. To do that, they’d need to create a prototype of their technologies. 

Today the growing firm is located at Innovation Park at Queen’s University, where they receive the resources and support they need to advance their business. In addition to support from IRAP (Natural Research Council Canada), PELA (Community Futures Development Corp., Fed Dev) and PARTEQ, QSBR Innovations has also been working with Launch Lab, a one-stop shop for technology-based startups and growing companies. “They have been getting us market information,” says Stinson. “We can’t spend thousands of dollars on six hundred pages reports on heat exchanger markets. Launch Lab went out and found the pertinent information. The best part is they follow up to see if we need more.” For the past year they have also been working closely with the Kingston Economic Development Corporation (KEDCO) to source foundries and injection-moulding companies that can help them manufacture their technology locally.

As well as their work on the PBF, QSBR Innovations is also developing a second of Harrison’s patented ideas, Integral Stagnation Control, a simple method for controlling temperatures in thermal water heating systems. These systems heat up dramatically when idle, often reaching temperatures of 180-200 degrees C. Controlling temperature is an expensive proposition requiring heat-wasting systems costing thousands of dollars. ISC lets excess heat escape and cool air in, cooling collectors for a fraction of the cost. ISC also has applications in photovoltaic thermal panels and the development of super high efficiency collectors and collectors made entirely of plastic. Beyond that, says Stinson, they are interested in engaging potential investors and working with other entrepreneurs looking to take their products to market.

“The challenge,” he says, “is finding the time!”