2040 Energy founder Joe Strommen with the RenewaBoiler prototype in his workshop.

Heat pump startup wins Minnesota innovation competition’s cleantech award

One of Minnesota’s most anticipated competitions that supports startups announced its big winners this week. Nanodropper, a medical device startup, is the MN Cup overall winner. The competition also named nine divisional winners, with Bloomington, Minnesota-based 2040 Energy taking the energy/cleantech/water category for its heat pump innovations. 

“It’s exciting and surprising,” said founder Joe Strommen. “There were a lot of other good, very well presented companies, and I’m very honored to win the cleantech division.”

2040 Energy’s primary goal is to create products that lower greenhouse gas emissions and climate impact. Its name reflects the intent to help the U.S. to reach net-zero carbon by 2040. The startup’s initial product is the RenewaBoiler, a heat pump designed to replace oil and gas boilers in homes with radiators.

“It is now a huge environmental and climate improvement to switch to electric heat pumps. And it is increasingly a good deal economically,” Strommen said.

2040 Energy’s divisional win surprised him a bit because the startup is early stage and doesn’t yet have a product on the market. “But we’ve done a lot of work on the engineering and on the business development, so I guess that came through in the competition,” he said. 

Finishing the prototype for RenewaBoiler is the next goal, which Strommen hopes to achieve in the next few weeks. He plans to use the $25,000 cash prize to hire his first employee.

How it started

Strommen has been working on 2040 Energy for about three years. He initially envisioned software and electronics-focused products related to clean energy heating that would tap into his software background. 

He saw opportunities to improve heat pumps, a cleaner heat source, especially for cold weather climates. Prior to the last decade, heat pump designs hadn’t worked well in cold regions and therefore adoption has been low in such climates.

“It became clear to me pretty early on that there were some real issues with the equipment that need to be fixed before heat pumps get a lot of uptake in a place like Minnesota or Chicago,” Strommen said. “We’re designing this with an energy recovery device that is going to allow us to operate at colder temperatures than anything out there today.”

One thing that makes 2040 Energy stand out is its target of creating very high water output temperatures of up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. It also uses a natural, carbon dioxide-based refrigerant instead of other commonly used chemical refrigerants that have a higher environmental impact if they leak. 

Besides being more environmentally friendly, the CO2 refrigerant also performs better with creating really hot water to send to the radiators, Strommen said. He will have better data about the device’s cold weather and hot water performance after the prototype is complete. 

Challenges

In addition to the usual startup challenges — such as finding knowledgeable, interested investors — 2040 Energy is facing supply chain difficulties. Many of the parts that go into the product are hard to get right now.

“The market for CO2 components is not well developed. So the compressors, for instance, came from Italy, and they took three-and-a-half months to arrive,” he said.

What’s next

After finishing the prototype, Strommen wants to hire some engineers to help him bring the product to market. He hopes to release the first product within a year. 

Meantime, he continues to identify distribution partners. This winter he’d like to run field trials with Beta units installed in a few homes in the Twin Cities metro area.

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