Thane Heins, tired and a little grumpy after a long flight from
California, walks onto the stage of an Ottawa conference room
and begins a sales pitch that usually raises more eyebrows than
One of three entrepreneurs chosen earlier this month to present
at a “Pitch The Dragons” contest, a spin on the CBC show Dragons’
Den, Heins has invented a technology that he says will put
out more energy than it consumes. His invention, he boldly
claims, offers a way to make electric cars that can travel
hundreds of kilometres from the energy in a small, inexpensive
It’s a tough crowd. One of the contest judges is TV-show judge
Robert Herjavec, a multimillionaire who just minutes earlier
shared with the audience his own story of success and the life
it now funds - the fancy gas-guzzling cars, the mansion, the
The two men are oil and water. Heins, who wants to help the
world kick its fossil-fuel addiction, immediately gets his back
up. Herjavec is dismissive from the get-go.
“It turned into a shouting match in front of 300 people,” Heins
says later that day. “I didn’t mind him kicking sand in my face,
but the thing that really got me is when he said I don’t get it.
He pushed me a little too far and I fought back.”
It was just another day for this underdog entrepreneur, a man
trying to convince mainstream society he has discovered
something real, which in this case means it has broken a major
law of physics.
The Star first
profiled Heins and his controversial invention a year ago. In a
nutshell, he had figured out a way to eliminate the
electromagnetic friction that typically limits the performance
of an electrical generator – an effect known as “Back EMF.” Not
only that, but he also learned how to redirect that magnetic
energy so that, instead of causing resistance, it gave an
electrical motor connected to the generator a significant boost.
The result, as far as Heins was concerned, violated Lenz’s law
or what’s often called the law of diminishing returns. For many,
that equates to a perpetual motion machine, an impossible claim
in the conventional field of physics.
Within no time the story spread globally across the Internet,
became chatter on blogs, and triggered a flood of email to this
reporter’s inbox – some praising Heins for his determination,
others calling the Star irresponsible for giving credibility to
his claim. The story, love it or hate it, was the second-most
read article on TheStar.com in
Much has happened over the past 12 months. Heins still operates
out of a lab out at the University of Ottawa, he continues to
evolve his invention, and he routinely demonstrates those
improvements to the world by posting videos on YouTube.
“The last video I watched still showed evidence of some
fundamental misunderstandings of physics, combined with wishful
thinking,” said Seanna Watson, an electrical engineer who is
also a member of a scientific group called Ottawa Skeptics.
Heins gave the group a demonstration of his technology shortly
at the Star’s story was published. Two months later Watson
posted a critique online titled “In This Town We Obey The Law of
Thermodynamics.” Yes, she admitted, the electrical motor does
speed up without any increase in input power, but increased
speed does not automatically mean an increase in mechanical
“Heins appears earnest and basically honest, but persistently
self-deluded,” Watson wrote. “While the speed-up behaviour of
the generator currently lacks an established explanation, there
is no reason to think that it represents any challenge to
currently known laws of physics.”
It’s a criticism Heins has heard before: You haven’t proved
you’re right, so you must be wrong. At the same time, nobody has
been able to prove he’s wrong.
Some want to believe, or have kept an inquiring mind. Heins has
been contacted by NASA, he’s had several investors,
entrepreneurs, engineers and academics show up at his lab for a
demonstration. Heins always obliges -- he says he has nothing to
At one point last spring, rock legend Neil Young wanted to adapt
Heins’ invention to power a 1959 Lincoln Continental MK IV,
which is being entered into the $10-million automotive X-Prize –
a contest in search of the world’s most efficient automobile.
Heins, Young, and his engineer Uli Kruger had much dialogue over
email and telephone about the rock star’s “LincVolt” project. At
one point, Heins sent Young some information by email on the
performance of his generator and copied the message to dozens of
other people unrelated to Young’s project.
Young replied to Heins that he didn’t appreciate his private
email being broadcast to the world. “Please do not do this
again!” he wrote, but then quickly breezed over the incident.
“This in no way negates my enthusiasm and curiosity about your
project,” he assured Heins.
Heins, not one to worship the famous, sent a terse response: “I
just sent you an email with proof that my generator violates the
Law of Conservation of Energy and you are worried about your
private email? Are you serious?” He accused Toronto-born Young
of being shallow.
The relationship eventually fizzled. Two week after that
exchange, Young, in an email to the Star,
was still gracious in his assessment of Heins’ invention. “I am
impressed… it is on our list of things to watch.”
Day by day, bit by bit, Heins’ passion and persistence is
steadily gaining him supporters – people convinced that what
they’re seeing is important enough to move the technology out of
the lab and into real-world applications.
Through his Ottawa-based company Potential Difference Inc.,
Heins has been in serious talks with a designer of small wind
turbines in Montreal, a senior engineer from a large utility in
Turkey, and a small manufacturer of electrical equipment in
Toronto. He’s altered the design of his prototype as well by
developing a high-voltage “self-excited” motor coil.
“We can use it to accelerate (the motor shaft) from 100
revolutions per minute to 3,500 without adding an ounce of
power,” according to Heins.
His most promising partnership so far is with California Diesel
& Power, a $10-million company that sells back-up generators for
cellphone towers throughout California. AT&T is one of its