Canadian Consulting Engineer

CCE’s Top 10 Under 40: Ian Welle

August 23, 2022
By Peter Saunders

He founded his business to design site-specific heat pumps.

Ian Welle

Photo courtesy Ian Welle.

This year, for the first time, Canadian Consulting Engineer launched an initiative to recognize up-and-coming consulting engineers across the country. We are now showcasing them on our website, in alphabetical order by surname.

Ian Welle, 32, is founder of and principal engineer for a Victoria-based refrigeration design consulting firm, Polar Engineering.

“In university, I was nicknamed a ‘functional hippie,’” he recalls. “I was not afraid of working hard, but always wanted to find the greenest solution.”

Fittingly, Welle joined Accent Refrigeration Systems, an industrial contractor that accomplished significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions for its clients by building heat pumps. As principal engineer, he worked with clients and governments on five continents to develop customized systems, using low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants.

“I was able to partner with the smartest engineers around the globe, designing one-of-a-kind heat pumps,” he says, “and then bring all of these ideas and the project experience back to Canada.”

Three years ago, Welle founded Polar to design specialized refrigeration systems, heat pumps and large energy recovery systems, such as those for ice arenas, that can capture waste heat from process cooling loads to provide low-carbon thermal energy, offsetting the loads of traditional, GHG-intensive, gas-fired heating systems.

“We maximize efficiency for energy recovery systems.”

“We’re one of the first companies in Canada designing site-specific, high-temperature heat pumps, all of which use low GWP refrigerants,” he explains. “We maximize efficiency and apply for government grants for our clients’ energy recovery systems.”

In just the past year, the firm helped clients secure more than $20 million in such grants for low-carbon heat pumps.

Welle has also served as a technical advisor for cooling systems for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in Chile and it ‘sister’ Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii, both still under construction.

“To see the universe clearly, they both have adaptive optics, which require very precise cooling, sometimes down to their set point plus or minus 0.03 C.,” he explains. “They need approximately 1 MW, equivalent to the cooling required by more than 100 houses in the middle of summer.”

With work of that scale, it may be no wonder the functional hippie in Welle looks forward to increasing efficiency even further in the future with net-zero projects.


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