Illinois Tech Researchers Receive Award From Peoples Gas for Solution Optimizing Efficiency of Legacy Steam Radiators

With over 70% of U.S. buildings constructed before 1940 equipped with radiators, the Battery-Operated Radiator Control (BORC) system can achieve significant savings without replacing units


BORC Peoples Gas Award

CHICAGO—October 31, 2023—Researchers at Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech) have been recognized by Peoples Gas with the Innovation Strategies and Technologies Award for their Battery-Operated Radiator Control (BORC) system, a groundbreaking solution to optimize the efficiency of manually operated radiators.

The researchers, Assistant Professor of Architectural Engineering Mohammad Heidarinejad and Arthur W. Hill Endowed Chair in Sustainability Brent Stephens, had the insight that traditional steam radiators are not easily replaced, but they can still be modernized.

Legacy steam radiators “often operate when they aren’t needed, and they can be difficult to control for comfort,” said Heidarinejad. “We have developed a way to automate the control of manual legacy steam radiator valves to manage radiator output in a way that is more similar to modern buildings and can be connected to building automation systems.”

 According to the United States Department of Energy, over 70% of U.S. buildings constructed before 1945 are equipped with radiators, and space heating is the largest building energy consumer, so the potential energy savings are enormous. Recent studies by the team, as documented in Energy and Buildings, show that BORC can achieve up to 63% radiator use savings.

Cheap and easy to install, BORC uses a remotely controlled motor to operate a radiator’s manual valve. BORC contains sensors that monitor room temperature and occupancy, and this information is used as part of the feedback system that determines if the radiator should be turned up or down. 

“In existing buildings where replacing older space heating systems with modern ones is financially and practically unfeasible, retrofitting them with custom automatic controls has the potential to considerably reduce energy consumption while maintaining or even improving thermal comfort,” said Stephens.

Since 2017 many students have contributed to the project through sponsor Franklin Energy’s support, as well as through both the Armour R&D and Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program

“We are impressed with the BORC technology, which holds real promise in substantially reducing the energy consumption in customers’ older buildings,” said Allen Dusault, manager of emerging technology for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas at Franklin Energy. 

The team set up the BORC system on radiators at Illinois Tech’s Alumni Memorial Hall and is currently working on the extension of the project to develop an automated fault detection and diagnostics steam trap system.

“We are working with the Illinois Tech technology office and Kaplan Institute for a potential research to market translation, and this news would be very helpful to support this effort,” said Heidarinejad. “We have a great transition team that we are confident can take us to the next level.”

Image: (From left to right) Hoang “Patrick” Le (MSE 4th Year), Assistant Professor of Architectural Engineering Mohammad Heidarinejad, and Christopher Riley (ME ’18, M.S. ARCE ’22).

Illinois Institute of Technology

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