Birmingham man takes national prize for green invention

By: Erin McClary | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published July 20, 2011

 Birmingham resident Virgil Heil stands behind his award-winning Cool Green Machine, an eco-friendly alternative to keeping food, beverages and the environment around him cool.

Birmingham resident Virgil Heil stands behind his award-winning Cool Green Machine, an eco-friendly alternative to keeping food, beverages and the environment around him cool.

Photo by David Schreiber

BIRMINGHAM — It’s cool. It’s green. And it may not be long before consumers can find Birmingham resident Virgil Heil’s machine on store shelves.

At the 26th annual four-day Invention & New Product Exposition’s Invention Show, Heil, 39, took the first-runner-up Grand Prix Award of $3,000 for his Cool Green Machine.

But more valuable than Heil’s award, perhaps, is the attention his invention has received since the show.

INPEX is the largest invention tradeshow in the U.S. States. This year it drew roughly 275 inventors and thousands of curious investors from big-name companies, said INPEX Director Nicole Hait. InventHelp is the company that puts on the INPEX expo.

“The goal of INPEX is really to connect inventors with people in the industry looking for new products,” she said. “They buy a booth at INPEX and hopefully meet someone that will move their product along.”

This year’s tradeshow was held June 14-17 in Monroeville, Pa., right outside Pittsburgh.

“All the inventors are judged,” she said. “There are 45 different categories — for both a domestic and international inventor. The Grand Prix winner takes home $7,500, then we have a first runner up and second runner up.”

This year’s Grand Prix winner’s Never Wet Coating wowed judges as a waterproof chemical that can be applied to anything. His winning demonstration, Hait said, involved him spraying down a calculator, dropping it into a bucket of water and then pulling it out to show that it still worked.

Heil said he first came up with the Cool Green Machine idea during the massive blackout of 2003, when he heard people were stuck on the ninth floor of a building in Detroit with no way out, no way for food or water to get in, and no power to boot.

“Their food was spoiling, they couldn’t get out, and there was no air conditioning,” he said. “I thought if only there was something that could be used in an emergency like this.”

He got to work in 2007, while he was working toward a Ph.D. in psychology — a pursuit he eventually put on the back burner to work on the Cool Green Machine.

It’s basically a 62-quart cooler that can also be used to cool the environment surrounding it, far better than a fan would. Heil said the machine can also emanate heat — while still keeping the contents inside cold.

The Cool Green Machine can run off of regular electricity, but a built in 72-volt battery can be charged through an electrical socket, a car battery or even solar energy. Oh, and it’s made out of all recycled materials, such as plastic water bottles and aluminum cans.

“It’s 100 percent green — no refrigerant (Freon), no compressor, no condenser,” said Heil. “The original size was a 62-quart cooler; now we’re having four different sizes: a personal-sized unit, then medium- to a large-sized unit that would be close to 100 quarts.”

It’s mobile, too. Heil said the idea was to make it accessible for boating, camping, fishing trips; or to just simply sit in the corner of a room, waiting for an emergency.

Since the invention tradeshow last month, he’s been in contact with a couple different companies and organizations, as well as with the Home Shopping Network, and he was recently asked to display the Cool Green Machine in a booth with the Chevy Volt during the Michigan Green Cruise Aug. 13.

One investor offered up to $156 million, Heil said, but he’s currently working with a company that’s showed interest from the beginning.

Heil’s been told, he said, that there’s no competition for the Cool Green Machine right now. He’s now trademarked.

Hait said the trend of green alternatives is one that’s definitely picked up in the past few years at INPEX, which may be why judges were drawn to Heil’s Cool Green Machine.

“Especially now, with everybody going green, we are seeing more green type products,” she said. “People using recycled material or making green type products. … It’s definitely a trend that we’re starting to see more of. But, I’ve go to think in general, that just seems to be the way the world is going, so I’ve got to think it is on judges’ radar.”

At INPEX, getting set up the first day was a little nerve-wracking, Heil explained.

“Truthfully, everything that we tried to do for the background wasn’t working,” he said. “Then once we had it set up the day of the showing, and being in a row with everyone else and watching companies walking up to everyone but me.”

While that was going on, his invention kept his booth at a nice, cool temperature. So when company reps did eventually make their way to the Cool Green Machine tent, it sold itself.

“From that point on, it was pretty easy,” said Heil, “While everybody’s booth around us was 80 degrees or higher, ours was 68 degrees.”