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Gordon Halloran installs his ice art in a cathedral that Accent Refrigeration converted into a deep freeze for the 2006 Turin Olympics.
Gordon Halloran installs his ice art in a cathedral that Accent Refrigeration converted into a deep freeze for the 2006 Turin Olympics.

Energy use

Their business plan: Fire and ice Add to ...

Recreational hockey players need no longer suffer from cold showers or endure chilly dressing rooms if Art Sutherland has his way.

The president of Victoria, B.C.-based Accent Refrigeration Systems Ltd. and his partner Greg Hillman have developed a trademarked Perfect Ice system that recovers waste heat from arena ice plants and puts it to good use. That includes not only heating dressing rooms and hot water in an arena, but heating and air conditioning buildings up to a kilometre away.

Despite being a small company of about 18 employees, Accent has installed ice plants at rinks around the world and in some unlikely places, such as Cape Town, South Africa. In doing so, Accent has gained an international reputation that has caught the notice of the likes of the Zamboni family.

"We're retrofitting a 40-year-old plant in their ice rink for the Zambonis," Mr. Sutherland said. "It's kind of a big credit for us when the Zamboni family comes to us."

That rink, Paramount Iceland, is also in an unlikely location, about 20 kilometres south of Los Angeles.

"We've know Art Sutherland for a long time," said Richard Zamboni, whose father, Frank, invented the ice-resurfacing machine that bears the family name.

Work that Accent had done on another southern California rink so impressed Mr. Zamboni that he invited the Canadian company to bid on the $125,000 retrofit of Paramount Iceland, a family-owned company separate from the one that makes the Zambonis.

Accent is no stranger to the western United States, having installed ice plants in three rinks for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. For the 2006 games in Turin, Italy, Accent refrigerated a cathedral in the historic Fenestrelle Fortress in order to display the ice paintings of Canadian artist Gordon Halloran. For the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Accent refrigerated an "Ice Gate" to showcase Mr. Halloran's work.

Ice rinks, however, are the mainstay of Accent's business. In its 20 years, the company has built systems for about 120 full-size hockey rinks and hundreds of other smaller systems, including rinks for residences. These include a $135,000 package for a 10- by 15-metre rink in a home in Brockville, Ont. The company is doing four such rinks this year, up from about one a year, which he attributes to post-Olympics interest.

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These systems reclaim a lot of energy, which can help someone sell the idea to a reluctant spouse by saying, "We are putting in a new heating system for the house and we get an ice rink for free," Mr. Sutherland pointed out.

Figuring out ways to leverage the energy of ice systems has become the major mission of Accent.

"Here's the typical ice rink," Mr. Sutherland said as he pointed to a photo on his computer. "You see the waste heat going out the top of the condenser. That's a common scene all around North America. What we do is we put piping all through the floors, radiant heating all through the dressing rooms and through the lobby area. And rather than have that waste heat go out to the environment, we end up heating all the concrete floors."

An avuncular 52-year-old married father of four daughters, Mr. Sutherland radiates calm and warmth as he speaks, even when it's his favourite subject: ice. A native of Stellarton, N.S., he entered the ice business since shortly after graduating with top marks from what was then the Nova Scotia Technical College. His first job was with tire maker Michelin, but he missed refrigeration and went to work for National Sea Products, until the Atlantic cod fishery collapsed. He ended up working for refrigeration giant CIMCO (originally the Canadian Ice Machine Co. Ltd.) in Edmonton, where he met Mr. Hillman.

A decade later, they moved to Victoria to set up their business, first in the suburb of Langford and then in Victoria itself. Next year, Accent will move back to Langford, in the same building as a new ice rink and bowling alley.

For Langford, Accent is doing what Mr. Sutherland calls "a really cool project" that will use energy from the ice rink to heat and air-condition the bowling alley, as well as heat homes in a nearby residential subdivision.

"We are taking all the energy and heat from the rink and we are pumping it through a piping system to heat all these houses. We just finished building this energy station, where we are extracting heat from a bunch of bore holes in the ground." Mr. Sutherland calls this system "district energy sharing."

"It's going to raise the level of environmental awareness with recreation and the way to do things," said Langford Mayor Stew Young. "It'll be a showcase for other projects he can work on."

Mr. Young noted that the new ice rink will connect to an ice path to take skaters to an outdoor rink that Accent previously installed. That rink doubles as a splash park in the summer.

"I think that's the first time that someone has changed an ice rink into a spray park," Mr. Young said.

Sutherland says his systems can save 40 per cent, or $40,000 a year, on the $100,000 annual operating cost of an arena's ice plant. But on top of that is $100,000 of otherwise wasted energy that can heat the rest of the arena or other buildings.

If a project cannot recoup the investment in the equipment from energy savings in five years, Accent won't do it. One ice-rink retrofit, which heats a nearby swimming pool, recovered the capital cost in just two years, he said.

Accent has devised other ways to increase energy efficiency, such as "sub-cooling," which uses snow scraped off by the Zamboni to cool glycol-filled plates that, in turn, pre-cool the refrigeration system.

"When you see that pile of snow, you are seeing a mound of electricity sitting there. Your whole ice plant, electrical, went in to making that snow."

In Japan, for a curling club near Mount Fuji, Accent designed a system six storeys high that in the winter freezes 2.25 million kilograms of water, which then cools the building and ice system the rest of the year.

"A lot of our customers are in Asia and they spend four times the amount we do for electricity," Mr. Sutherland said. "So it became a nice lab for us."

He said there are lots of opportunities for communities to make use of wasted energy, not just from ice rinks but also from sewage systems, dairies and breweries, for example.

"With what you see happening down in the Gulf with oil spewing all over the ocean, I think anything we can do to get off fossil fuels as soon as we can is going to do a lot for the environment," Mr. Sutherland said. "Refrigeration just involves the process of moving heat and I think there are some real huge opportunities here in North America to re-look at how we've run things in the past."

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