Improving Efficiency of Gas-Powered Water Heaters

September 29, 2020

Portrait of Bill Ma

Professor Hongbin (Bill) Ma

A faculty-led research team at Mizzou Engineering is collaborating with a national laboratory and private industry to develop technology that may ultimately lead to less natural gas consumption in consumer-grade gas water heaters.

Hongbin (Bill) Ma, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is the primary investigator of an MU research group that is tasked with developing a prototype gas-fired ejector heat pump water heater (GFEHP). The GFEHP must provide the same heating capacity as current Department of Energy standards yet would use half the current consumption of natural gas in a residential water heater.

“We are planning to reach 200% efficiency with this heat pump using energy from ambient air,” Ma said.

Ma and his team have already performed preliminary work in this area. This preliminary work and concept are seen as highly promising as Ma has experience designing and manufacturing ejectors for other applications. He also holds patents on related products.

Ma leads the Center of Thermal Management group at MU. This consortium will conduct the research and building effort for the GFEHP. Five undergraduates, two master’s students and two PhD students are currently working with Ma on this particular research project.

“The goal of our product is to go to a Level 7 – basically ready for the market,” Ma said. “We are planning on this (GFEHP) to be ready in three years.”

Ma received a $720,000 grant from the Department of Energy for this research project along with partial matching funding from the university. The entire research project is being facilitated through the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

About Dr. Ma

Various organizations have funded Ma’s previous research, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Intel Corp., Dell, Outokumpu, Foxconn, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Northrop Grumman, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Leonard Wood Institute, Rockwell Automation, Gore-Tex, the Department of Education, the MU Research Board and the University Research Council.

Ma is a cofounder of two businesses that are based on his research, ThermAvant Technologies and ThermAvant International. These companies develop his research into consumer and commercial products. Both companies are based in Columbia, Missouri.