More than 200 ideas were submitted for our second Great Canadian Invention Competition. While judging continues, we present three of the more intriguing entries and the brains behind them.
Thane Heins /// Almonte, Ont.
Thane Heins could be a dreamer, a crackpot, a genius or all three. He wants to stop the war in Iraq and believes that his creation “in the right hands…will save lives.” His creation? A generator that produces energy in an isolated system, something that some say is a perpetual motion machine, although Heins carefully distances himself from such statements. “We can only say what we can show, and we can only claim what we can prove,” says Heins. “And (the generator) violates the law of conservation of energy.”
That law states new energy cannot be created in a closed system, and Heins’s claim to have broken it has thrust the 47-year-old from Almonte, Ont., into the spotlight. Heins’s generator, called Perepiteia, is an electromechanical device that uses wire coils and magnets. When the generator is attached to an electric motor, both the Perepiteia generator and the motor simultaneously accelerate. And when a load—say, a light bulb—is attached to the generator, power to all three accelerates. Heins calls the phenomenon “regenerative acceleration,” and its application could be used in an electric car, where the battery would recharge both when applying the brakes and when stepping on the accelerator.
It sounds a lot like perpetual motion, a label that caused Markus Zahn, an MIT professor who has examined the generator, to distance himself from Heins, and caused much speculation about the invention’s legitimacy in blogs and chat rooms. The online community has reacted with both unabashed skepticism and support for the underdog, a college dropout who used to work as a painter and chef. YouTube videos of Perepiteia have been viewed thousands of times.
Among Heins’s fans are Riadh Habash, an engineering professor at the University of Ottawa, where Heins has his lab, and investor Kevin Thistle, president of the Angus Glen Golf Club in Markham, Ont. Thistle gave Heins a $50,000 initial investment when they met three years ago, and continues to fund miscellaneous expenses such as travel. “He’s just so passionate about it, that’s what sold me on it,” says Thistle, who positions his investment as a way of diversifying a portfolio that includes Research In Motion, Royal Bank of Canada and real estate. “I feel no risk, because I know it works.”
Part of Heins’s commitment to Perepiteia comes from his belief that “first and foremost I am an artist,” and his need to create something. But Heins didn’t set out to be an inventor. He wanted to be a wildlife painter, but ended up taking electronics at college, completing chef school and owning a restaurant. Eventually, Heins ended up being an inventor, starting Potential Differences Inc., to run his Perepiteia venture.
Heins’s dedication has taken a heavy personal toll. He divorced and lost custody of his two daughters for being unable to pay child support. “I understand how the soldiers in Iraq feel when they don’t get to see their kids.” He now works seven days a weeks, between eight and 12 hours each day on his invention. “This technology should be mainstream,” Heins says.