Friday, October 12, 2012

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Interest in oil-efficiency device heating up

Bob Zaffino is not the type to gamble with investing in startups. But Zaffino invested nearly $75,000 in equipment and cash in a small Holliston manufacturer for one big reason: Energy Efficiency Solutions LLC’s oil burner technology saved Zaffino money.

Zaffino owns The Paint Project in Medfield, selling paint-spray equipment and systems, and was consuming about 4,000 gallons of oil annually to heat his facility. With the Burner Booster attached to an oil burner in his workshop, he has reduced oil consumption by at least 30 percent.

The Burner Booster converts oil from the burner into a fine mist, rather than traditional droplets, increasing the burner’s efficiency and reducing oil consumption. For his part, Zaffino needed just one oil burner, not two, to heat the 7,000-square-foot workshop, he said.

The savings impressed Zaffino so much he jumped at the chance to invest in Energy Efficiency Solutions, the company that Burner Booster inventor Eric LaVoie founded to develop and market the device. And as the heating season approaches, Zaffino is convinced The Burner Booster will catch on among customers.

“I’m hoping to retire in the next five years if this works out,” said Zaffino, who employs eight people.

Zaffino is one of 40 investors — a combination of customers, oil burner service companies, licensed oil burner technicians, property managers and more — who are hoping to make a big profit if Energy Efficiency Solutions is successful.

“Typically our investments are in stocks or precious metals. Something secure. It’s just that we could the results (of The Burner Booster) so fast, it was amazing,” said Gary Latti, owner of Corona Films in Townsend. Latti said he and his business partner bought a 3-percent stake in The Burner Booster after testing the product.

“We saw an opportunity that this could be the next best thing for the oil-burning industry,” Latti said.

Energy Efficiency Solutions has sold about 40 Burner Boosters to full-paying customers, most of them earlier this year. Some of the firm’s investors received Burner Booster units for free to test them. Richard Bruno, facilities manager for a converted mill building in Plainville, installed a Burner Booster last February, costing him $10,000. He said he has since saved about 25 percent in the typical amount of oil the 110,000-square-foot structure otherwise would consume. He has not invested in the firm, but he is considering buying at least one more Burner Booster for another building he manages in Norwood.

“If you’re using $60,000 worth of oil, (The Burner Booster) is not expensive,” he said. LaVoie said he has pieced together $1.8 million in equity investments over the past three years through small investors. LaVoie values the company at between $8 million and $12 million based on projected sales of the Burner Booster, its $1.75 million in assets, and the viability of the Burner Booster patent.

Investors can buy into Energy Efficiency Solutions in one of two ways. They can buy a share of the company, with a 1-percent stake selling today for between $80,000 and $150,000. (Early investors such as Zaffino and Latti bought their stakes at a much lower price.) Or they can give the firm a two-year loan with a 9 percent interest rate. Some investors who were unhappy in the stock market liquidated their investments and 401(k) plans to put money behind the technology, LaVoie said.

LaVoie is now talking to angel investors so that he can expand production and add more Burner Booster products. He would like to develop a Burner Booster that can accommodate large tower office buildings and one that can work with fuels other than No. 2 heating oil.

“I want to change the process of how oil burns,” LaVoie said. “I realized the oil industry is like a dinosaur. It’s stuck with its own mentality.”

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