MSU alumnus receives patent for mass energy saving algorithm
MSU alumnus Vytau Virskus has received a patent for his energy control algorithm, E-Flow.
In December 2016, Virskus received a patent for his dynamic differential energy control algorithm, which he now calls E-Flow.
“What I learned at MSU in terms of learning how to control pumping systems, at the time we did it manually, almost. I wondered if it could be done automatically, and decrease the speed of the drives of the pumping systems using computer controls,” Virskus said. “After a number of years of developing both the mathematics and the mechanics of the patent, I submitted to patent in 2012 and I got the patent in December 2016. So it was four years and quite a bit of effort to be able to do that.”
Virskus, who is of Lithuanian descent, was born on a refugee camp in southern Germany while his family fled the Russian occupation of Lithuania.
“We emigrated from southern Germany to Bremerhaven, on a Liberty ship to Ellis Island, and then to Flint, Michigan,” Virskus said. “I was accepted to both U-M and Michigan State. By serendipity, (I) ended up at Michigan State University campus.”
An air force veteran and draftee, Virskus received a degree in mechanical engineering from MSU in 1975.
“In 1965 when the baby boomers, which I was one of, crashed on the shores of this campus, everything was under construction and buildings were being built all the time. I was one of the first occupants of Akers dormitory,” Virskus said.
Virskus went on to become president of his floor in Akers Hall. He met his wife, Catherine, in McDonel Hall during a floor presidents' meeting. He also played MSU football during his first months on campus.
“As a freshman, I was a walk-on on the MSU football team. So, I got a chance to practice with Bubba Smith and be on the field with those guys. I walked on as a kicker and practiced for a couple months,” Virskus said.
After he served four years in the Air Force, Virskus returned to central Michigan with the intent of receiving a degree from MSU. Virskus switched his major from mathematics to mechanical engineering, which took an additional two years to complete.
“I was actually drafted in my senior year, in 1969. I went into the service, I had already signed up for going into pilot training, and I was going to go into the Air Force after I graduated but needed one more term,” Virskus said. “Even with an appeal they didn’t grant that to me, so I went in as a enlisted man and became a crew chief on a C130.”
After his graduation in 1975, Virskus was offered the position of energy analyst and operator of the new energy system that was being installed.
“When I started at MSU, I was asked to operate the new computerized building automation system that was going to be placed in the campus. That’s where I got my start building automation and controlling energy,” Virskus said.
Virskus had the opportunity to research energy efficiency, along with computer automated building control, both of which were new in the field of engineering.
“I noticed that there was a way of being able to reduce the amount of energy by reducing the number of pumps that were used to pump heating and cooling around the campus buildings. So, if I reduce the amount of pumps, or reduce the speed of the pumps, then I could save energy,” Virskus said. “It was significant energy savings, because for every 20 percent in reduction in motor speed, you get a 50 percent savings.”
Virskus eventually became the energy manager of the MSU campus. There was no such position before his arrival. This was before environmental engineering was a degree path.
“If you want to run a system at full speed, like a car … you press on the accelerator to go fast,” Virskus said. “But you don’t go fast all the time, but when you're going fast, you use the most amount of gas. When you slow down to 35 or 25 miles per hour, you use very little gasoline in comparison.”
Virskus championed reducing energy consumption by adjusting the speed of the pumps of which transmit heating and cooling across campus. Before Virskus and his team reduced the speed, they were all moving at top speed.
Virskus went on to graduate from Cooley Law School in 1985. After a spell in patent law, Virskus created his company, Millenium Energy, in 1995. Virskus became a full-time energy engineer with new computer technology bursting into the marketplace at an unprecedented rate. Millenium Energy is based in Okemos.
E-Flow has been installed in more than 3 million square feet of hospital, educational and commercial buildings.
“I’ve been doing work for the Okemos schools, the Holt schools, the Waverly schools. I’ve been doing work all over the state of Michigan and other various consulting projects all over the country,” Virskus said. “Over the past 15 years, I saved school districts over and others about $20 million in energy costs.”
If one was to go to the MSU physical plant today, Virskus’s device he and his team developed for metering heat is still being used.
“For Holt schools, we had a full energy retrofit. Pumps, fans, lights, and they saved about $850,000 a year, and I started working with the Okemos schools in 1995, and they have saved over $800,000 a year as well,” Virskus said.