BEMIDJI—When Dave Bahr and Amanda Wick walked into the former Deer Lake Elementary School building last fall, they were greeted by more than a decade’s worth of old desks, chairs, and other built-up educational detritus. Now: the former principal’s office is Wick’s office; the media center desk is a 3D printing station; the school’s library is filled with physics and computing textbooks and reference manuals; and the cafeteria kitchen and choir room are work spaces for a high school robotics team. Another room is filled with lab equipment, including the remains of Bahr’s experiment on the effects of magnetic waves on certain kinds of seedlings.
Bemidji Area Schools had used the mothballed elementary for storage before staff there sold it to 3Suns Research, Bahr and Wick’s green technology-focused research and development company that cleaned out the old school and hopes to work on an array of public and private science and technology projects.
One project, Bahr said, would use a “quantum dot Peltier Effect semiconductor heterostructure” to passively convert heat energy that might otherwise be wasted into electric energy.
“Suppose you had a bathtub that was coated with a Peltier Effect quantum dot thin film. While you’re sitting in there, you’ve filled up that bathtub with 40,000 BTUs of heat that came from your water heater,” Bahr said. “You’re just going to let it go down the drain and warm up the sewer, right? Maybe not.”
Filled with enough hot water, a bathtub coated in a Peltier Effect film with electrodes attached to the ends, Bahr explained, could generate a kilowatt hour of electricity.
“You could charge your cell phone while you’re taking your bath,” he said.
Bahr and Wick also hope to secure government grants for projects ranging from improved electric car batteries to commercial wind turbine rotor designs. They’re also angling for contracts to develop similar technologies for private businesses.
“Our main focus is sustainable and renewable energy technology,” Wick said. The company’s three largest sources of expected revenue, she said, are client manufacturers, grants for research, and some in-house ideas. She and Bahr also plan to rent out some of the open-plan building’s classroom spaces.
Bahr said they hope to have the building itself be entirely carbon neutral in five years, and plans to augment the boiler with a “combined heat and power” system that uses byproduct timber to produce heat and electricity for the building.
“The reactors, I call them, or combustors, are so sophisticated that comparing them to a traditional wood-burning appliance is unrealistic. It’s unfair,” Bahr said matter-of-factly. “The two-stage process involves…destructive distillation of the biomass, and then the pyrolytics that come off get combusted at about 1500 degrees C, which is high enough to dissociate the molecules of contaminants, so almost nothing comes out the stack that contributes to atmospheric degradation.”
Bahr, the company’s owner whose official title is “research director,” and Wick, its chief operating officer, have connections to BSU, too. Bahr is a former physics professor there, and Wick is a 2015 graduate with a business administration degree that has emphases on management and entrepreneurship.
3Suns purchased the land and building from the school district for $500,000 in early September, county property records show. The district closed the school in the early 2000s after more than 20 years in operation, and used it as a warehouse and occasional source of replacement parts.
The company name, Bahr said, is a reference to the three ways that humans use energy from the sun: direct capture via solar panels, indirect capture through wind turbines and through biomass like plants.
“I’m in my element when I’m exploring, when I’m looking into things that I’m curious about. Physical things and things that you just don’t look up in a book. Just coming up with creative and insightful solutions to things that haven’t been solved before or even just puzzles,” Bahr said.