Cold start: With $25M round set, ThermoLift ices test

Cool runnings: ThermoLift cofounders Paul Schwartz (center) and Peter Hofbauer (right) joined scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to put their Generation 3.0 device through some very cold paces.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A Stony Brook-based heat-pump innovator has completed a rigorous round of prototype testing – and, in the process, crushed a series of critical U.S. Department of Energy performance standards.

ThermoLift, headquartered at Stony Brook University’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center and a member of the university’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, announced Tuesday that it’s wrapped up testing of its innovative, refrigerant-free natural-gas air conditioner and cold-climate heat pump technology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

And it’s done so in style: A Generation 3.0 prototype demonstration, funded in part by a DOE grant and featuring a plethora of technological upgrades, showed that ThermoLift’s “cycle coefficient of performance” exceeded all DOE-designated temperature targets for cold-climate heat pumps, based on strict international performance standards.

That includes “high performance” at what company officials describe as “the most difficult test point” – temperatures ranging as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius.

The upshot: a full range of simultaneous heating, cooling and water-heating functionality in virtually any environment, using only natural gas as a fuel source.

The ThermoLift prototypes advance the science behind the thermally activated Vuilleumier heat pump, which leverages the Vuilleumier cycle – essentially, a thermodynamic cycle that works at very low temperatures – to provide new opportunities in extreme-temperature heat and cooling systems.

Freeze frame: The very cool ThermoLift 3.0.

The science is advanced, but the potential rewards are simple: a giant forward leap in the world of ecologically friendly environmental-control systems, according to Robert Catell, the former KeySpan CEO and National Grid U.S. chairman currently serving as chairman of the AERTC.

“ThermoLift’s thermally driven heat pump can utilize the abundant domestic resources of natural gas to provide both heating and cooling in an environmentally friendly and cost-efficient manner,” Catell said Tuesday.

The successful test run is the latest achievement for the shining star of SBU’s commercialization and innovation ecosystems, which receives business-development support from CEBIP and, in addition to the DOE funding, has been backed financially by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and various private investors.

Now boasting more than 20 full-time employees, the 2012 startup has raised nearly $12 million in funding to date. Its primary mission is the development of a patented Thermal Compression Cycle device invented by company cofounder and President Peter Hofbauer.

On Tuesday, Hofbauer trumpeted the Oak Ridge testing as a very promising development, with his invention proving capable of extreme-conditions environmental-control functions no other single device can manage.

“Uniquely, the ThermoLift system can maintain high performance and energy efficiency across [extremely cold] temperature ranges, when other systems require a secondary backup device,” Hofbauer noted.

The company predicts the clean-gen tech will ultimately reduce a building’s HVAC costs by up to 50 percent while greatly reducing related greenhouse-gas emissions. And the market potential for a commercialized ThermoLift device “extends beyond commercial and residential buildings,” according to the Stony Brook firm, which also notes industrial applications such as refrigeration, food processing, pharmaceuticals manufacturing and desalination, among others.

ThermoLift cofounder and CEO Paul Schwartz, who called the Gen 3.0 device “an evolution above” earlier models, said Tuesday the company is still keen on introducing advanced composite materials to the mix. The current model is “mostly metal,” Schwartz told Innovate LI, but the groundbreaking composites will hopefully be incorporated in the coming months.

Meanwhile, with the successful Oak Ridge testing phase complete, ThermoLift is now focusing on an ambitious capital-investment round, according to the CEO.

“The company’s goal now is to complete a $25 million capital raise,” Schwartz said. “It’s currently in progress, with approximately 50 percent being committed by existing investors.

“With that capital, we’ll be producing up to 20 preproduction prototypes for field deployment at utilities, national laboratories and commercial customers,” he added. “It’s another big step in the march toward commercialization.”