Original Story By David DeMille – ddemille@thespectrum.com

ST. GEORGE — A small operation that could be about to go big is perched above downtown St. George at a makeshift test site off Red Hills Parkway.

Helidyne, an energy company that started six years ago when two brothers started tinkering in a garage with a little- known technology, is in the process of testing its patented power generators in preparation for its first major sale — four units headed to offshore oil platforms for Mexico’s state-owned Pemex, where they could replace diesel units that require expensive shipments of fossil fuels.

A deceptively orderly tangle of pipelines, power cords and metal framing, the setup has been spread out across a patch of gravel usually used to store electrical transformers outside St. George City’s Red Rock Generating Facility. For the past several months, the tests have been little-seen and little-noticed, tucked behind the fencing and blending in with the surrounding power equipment.

But if the units are a success, providing clean, efficient energy to the oil platforms, company representatives are anticipating a major ramp-up in production — the units, priced at $1.2 million each, could soon come pouring into a market that currently includes more than 4,000 facilities in the Mexican Gulf alone.

The company’s patented “planetary rotor expander” sounds like something out of Star Trek, but the idea is a fundamentally simple one. The generator, built into a box about the size of an economy car, takes in high-pressure gas and funnels it through a system of speciallydesigned rotors to generate electricity. The gas is then sent back out at a lower pressure, meaning the generators can be installed via a simple bypass loop and feed the gas back into the supply line.

The four units sold to Pemex are rated to 60 kilowatts and could be driven by high pressure natural gas or nitrogen pumped in from on-shore compressor stations.

Similar systems have been in use for years, but Helidyne’s model is self-cleaning, can handle less-refined “wet” gas and is rated to handle higher pressures.

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Helidyne representatives demonstrate their energy-producing generator to local engineers and manufacturers Thursday

And because it is noncombustive, it’s emissionfree and can eliminate many safety hazards, said Kevin Kerlin, cofounder and CEO.

“The unique planetary design allows the expander to operate in environments most competitors find too difficult to manage,” Kerlin said. “So it’s been exciting to see customers come to us with applications we’ve never considered before. Such was the case with Pemex.”

As local elected officials and businesses leaders noted during a tour of the test site on Thursday, the company could be at the forefront of something big — and become a symbolic success story for an area anxious to see more high-tech industrial development.

“The potential for Helidyne is pretty much unlimited, and that future includes Washington County, so it’s a good thing,” said Scott Hirschi, director of Site Select Plus, the area’s primary business recruitment and economic development agency.

The company currently employs seven people, but Kerlin and his brother, Andy Kerlin, said they anticipate needing to ramp up operations if they are going to keep up with the demand that could come from Pemex — the company has shown interest in ordering more than 140 additional units if the initial order proves worthwhile.

The technology could eventually be used in an assortment of applications, utilizing hot water from geothermal power plants, hydraulic pressure from oil wells or natural gas along supply lines in places like Southern Utah. Every place where pressure along those lines is reduced, there is wasted energy that could be harnessed, Kevin Kerlin said.