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Toronto cools off using Lake Ontario waters
Despite one man's crusade, idea gets little respect in Milwaukee
By Dan Egan
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published July 18th, 2004

When Gerard Friedenfeld turned 60 back in 1984, the Czech native and Holocaust survivor celebrated with a trip to France. He never made it to the Louvre.

"Instead of visiting the Mona Lisa - she forgave me - I visited what I was told was then the world's largest incinerator of municipal waste," said Friedenfeld, a retired salesman and amateur inventor from Brown Deer whose formal education stopped at age 14, thanks to the Nazis.

What he found at the waste station was a thing of Da Vinci-caliber beauty. The burning waste fueled a power plant. Spent steam from the power plant was used to heat buildings in Paris. Ash from the burned waste was used in the construction of roads and parking lots.

He had long been interested in finding ways to save energy and in the 1970s even patented a fuel-saving device designed to reduce wind resistance on semitrailers. But seeing the French plant in operation was something of an epiphany.

"Suddenly, it opened my mind to energy conservation," he said. "I saw it in action."

That newly opened mind was racing when he returned to Milwaukee and resumed his regular walks along the Lake Michigan shore.

"My God," he thought as he looked out into the deep blue waters of the big lake one day. "Right here is the biggest air conditioner in the world!"

That launched a two-decade crusade to persuade Wisconsin business and political leaders to take a serious look at his plan to pump cold water from the depths of the lake and pipe it into Milwaukee-area buildings for air conditioning.

After 20 years of cajoling - and often annoying - everyone from utility bosses to congressmen to newspaper reporters with his cool fixation, Friedenfeld remains convinced that the concept is worth seriously exploring.

And people still scoff.

"Why are we talking about this?" Margaret Stanfield, a spokeswoman for We Energies, asked when questioned recently about whether the utility had considered the concept.

Then she asked if Friedenfeld was behind it.


Toronto is.

The whole city.

This week, the Canadians will unveil the machine of Friedenfeld's dreams, a Lake Ontario-based air conditioning system that will cool downtown Toronto office buildings.

The mammoth air conditioner relies on three pipes, each more than 5 feet in diameter, that stretch more than 3 miles into Lake Ontario.

The pipes suck water from a depth of nearly 300 feet, where on even the hottest days the water remains a constant 39 degrees. Once pumped ashore, it flows to the city's water treatment plant. From there, it's piped to "heat exchangers," where the chill from the city's drinking water is transferred to a separate loop of water used for air conditioning downtown buildings. The water in the two systems never mixes; only temperatures are exchanged.

The cooled water then courses through downtown.

The drinking water flows to faucets across the city.

The system cost $169 million (about $128 million in U.S. dollars), according to Kevin Loughborough, vice president of major products for Enwave, the company that built the system. Enwave is jointly owned by the City of Toronto and an Ontario municipal employees' pension fund.

Talk of expansion

The giant air conditioner will be turned on this week, and Loughborough said that there is already talk about expanding a system that, he says, in the long run, will provide cheaper cooling than traditional air conditioning systems for towering buildings in the southern part of downtown Toronto.

It also provides a host of environmental benefits, including using about 75% less electricity than traditional air conditioning systems. That will mean a significant reduction in power demand in the region.

"We'll save at least 35 megawatts of load on the system," he said.

The cooling system, according to Enwave, will save enough electricity each year to power 4,200 homes. It also will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Loughborough maintains that the system will lead to no appreciable heating of Lake Ontario. He said environmental studies show the system will cause a temperature increase equivalent to the heat the lake surface absorbs during seven seconds of sunshine.

The supply of cold water, he added, will never run out because it is replenished each winter, when the 39-degree water sinks from the lake surface to the bottom.

"We're not upsetting the ecosystem whatsoever," he said.

The project didn't happen overnight.

Plenty of skepticism

It was first proposed more than two decades ago by Toronto engineer Robert Tamblyn, several years before Friedenfeld said he got the idea himself.

Friedenfeld, who said he was never motivated by profit, was among a group that brought Tamblyn to Milwaukee in 1993 to give a talk about the prospect of building a lake-based air conditioner here.

Tamblyn got a cool reception in Milwaukee.

It was the same case for years in Canada.

"There was a lot of skepticism," Loughborough said. "It's new, and people have to satisfy themselves that this is real."

Loughborough said it took more than a decade to study the feasibility of the project and raise the business sector support - and money - for it.

"If you can put the pieces together, it just makes so much sense because it's an energy source on the doorstep that is continually renewable," he said. "It uncouples you from the vagaries of traditional energy markets."

Energetic inventor

Friedenfeld is nothing if not persistent. He says that back in the 1970s, he wanted so badly to get his first fuel-saving invention installed on a fleet of semitrailers that he called the boss at Schneider National Inc. trucking company in Green Bay to pitch his plan.

He didn't get a call back. So he called again. And again. He called 36 times. Finally, he said, the secretary felt so bad for him that she insisted her boss get on the line.

The conversation didn't last long.

Friedenfeld said the words that came through his receiver went something like this: "No. No. No." Then the gentleman slammed the phone.

"He couldn't care less," Friedenfeld said.

The patent that he was awarded for the drag-reducing sleeve that connected a truck tractor to its trailer - No. 3,834,752 - expired in 1991, 17 years after it was issued. He never made a dime off it.

"I was a baby in the woods," he said of the enthusiasm he felt the day his patent was issued. "I thought the world would beat a path to my door. Wrong."

These days, Friedenfeld does the beating on the doors, and in the letters to the editor section of this newspaper. He said that over the last decade he has submitted dozens of such letters and guest opinions. About 15 of them have been published.

In September 2002, he wrote a guest opinion in the Journal Sentinel criticizing We Energies' push to build more power plants. He made the argument that the utilities should look at using their existing plants to produce more energy during times when demand is low, and then store that energy in the form of ice or compressed air.

Much of the letter was dedicated to the concept of exploring a lake-based cooling system similar to the one about to be unveiled in Toronto.

Cool response

He got a response from We Energies bosses the next week.

"I was puzzled when I read Gerard Friedenfeld's article, 'Lake Michigan offers choice for big savings on energy,' " We Energies Vice President Scott Patulski responded in a guest opinion the following Sunday. "Obviously, either Mr. Friedenfeld hasn't been paying attention or we haven't been boasting enough."

Patulski went on to trumpet his company's off-peak ice production projects at three of its power plants. He talked about plans to use Lake Michigan water to cool the air intake at a refurbished Port Washington power plant. He talked about We Energies' use of steam from one of its plants; it is pumped into 43 miles of pipes and it provides heat for buildings all across downtown Milwaukee and the County Grounds in Wauwatosa.

But he didn't address the thrust of Friedenfeld's letter: Why not look at using Lake Michigan to directly cool downtown Milwaukee on scorching summer days?

Friedenfeld maintains that such a plan would not be simple to accomplish. And perhaps it isn't even doable. All he wants is for someone with more technical expertise than he to take a hard look at it.

"My education ended when I was 14," he said.

That's how old he was when he fled with 135 other children from Czechoslovakia to London. He never attended school again. He never saw his parents again.

"Hitler ended my education. Or he gave me an excellent education, because I've had to scrounge for it," he said.

'Idea worth considering'
Jim Lubner, education coordinator for the University of Wisconsin's Sea Grant Institute, said Friedenfeld might be on to something, though he is doubtful Milwaukee could access deep, cold water as close to shore as Toronto has been able to.

"He's not out of line on this," he said. "If you have a source of cold water that you can count on when you need it, it's not a bad idea. It's at least an idea worth considering, and doing the cost-benefit analysis."

It is an idea that is already working in the United States.

New York's Cornell University now employs a similar $60 million system that draws water from nearby Cayuga Lake to chill buildings across the Ivy League campus.

Closer to home, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee draws Lake Michigan water to help cool campus buildings, though the system is different from the one built in Toronto.

Andrew Nelson, UWM's director of physical plant, said the Lake Michigan water is piped from relatively close to shore, so it comes in at an average temperature of 60 degrees, much warmer than the 39-degree source Toronto has tapped. Therefore, it is used only in the condensing phase of the refrigeration process for the school's central cooling system.

"There is no refrigeration cycle in Toronto," Nelson said. "It's a direct heat exchange."

Making a difference
When Canadian engineer Tamblyn was brought to Milwaukee back in 1993 to make a presentation on Toronto's plans for a lake-based air conditioner, an official with what is now We Energies said the idea had been studied, and that while it may have made sense for Toronto, it didn't make economic sense here because costs for electricity production are cheaper here than in Canada.

A decade later, electricity rates have climbed, and We Energies is looking at spending billions on new power production facilities.

While We Energies spokeswoman Stanfield called Friedenfeld's lake-cooling plan "an interesting concept," the utility isn't likely to pursue it anytime soon.

"I'm not exactly sure who the entity is who would make this happen," she said. "We're in the electricity and natural gas business."

Right now, that entity appears to be Friedenfeld. He remains optimistic that Milwaukee will one day seriously explore his idea, hopefully in his lifetime. He turns 80 later this year.

"One person can make a difference, in the right place and at the right time," he said.


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