By GREGORY ZELLER //
A pair of modest research grants will help one of the shining examples of Stony Brook University’s innovation ecosystem incorporate cutting-edge materials into its mechanical design, with the assistance of the Composite Prototyping Center.
The nonprofit, Plainview-based CPC – a manufacturing mecca specializing in carbon fibers, aramid, fiberglass, ceramics and other non-traditional building blocks – is lending its expertise to ThermoLift Inc., the Stony Brook-based startup developing a revolutionary natural gas-powered air-conditioner and heat-pump technology.
Headquartered at SBU’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center and a member of the university’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, ThermoLift is currently refining its Generation 2.0 prototype – and is looking to incorporate advanced composite materials, with an eye toward future mass-manufacturing and customer-cost benefits.
The company has long predicted that combining a structure’s heating, cooling and water-temperature controls into a single appliance will ultimately provide HVAC cost savings of up to 50 percent while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To get there, ThermoLift’s engineers are turning to their innovative eyes to the CPC.
The SBU-anchored Manufacturing and Technology Resource Consortium has issued two $25,000 grants, one to ThermoLift and one to the CPC, to facilitate the work. The MTRC includes more than a dozen partners – including numerous SBU Centers of Excellence and state-run Small Business Development Centers, as well as corporate partners and other Island schools – and manages a $950,000 annual budget provided by NYSTAR, Albany’s division of science, technology and innovation and Empire State Development’s main tech-commercialization arm.
Even together, the MTRC grants are “relatively small,” noted ThermoLift CEO Paul Schwartz. But they “could lead to additional capital,” Schwartz told Innovate LI – and they’re critically important to the Generation 2.0 prototype and the future of the ThermoLift pump.
“Our complex thermodynamic machine has the opportunity for some very unique composite materials, specifically for the hot end of our machine,” Schwartz said. “Through this grant, the initial investigatory work will be financed.”
The work will mostly involve ceramic composites, according to Schwartz, along with other “composite materials with high-end strength.” The idea is to create components for the proprietary ThermoLift pump that can stand up to incredible temperatures – as high as 900 degrees centigrade, Schwartz noted – without breaking the bank, insofar as both manufacturing costs and customer costs.
“The composite compounds are for components that provide containment inside a pressure vessel and for heat transfer,” the CEO said. “The project will take existing components and existing materials and integrate them into the ThermoLift system.
“We’re looking to take advantage of these material characteristics, which will allow us to reduce the weight and the cost of the product,” Schwartz added. “It’s a long-term solution.”
It’s also a long-term process: The first ThermoLift products to be commercialized might not include the composite materials, Schwartz noted, “but our second product to market – and our future mass-manufacturing – could include them, which would be a real benefit for the customer.”
The composites will also further what the CEO referred to as “active internal testing” of the Generation 2.0 machine, a big step toward eventual field testing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
“Oak Ridge has come to visit us,” Schwartz said. “We’re coordinating with them and hope to get our equipment to them by late spring or early summer for testing at their facility.”
Whether or not the prototype that heads to Tennessee in the coming months includes the CPC-engineered composites remains to be seen. The CPC’s work on the ThermoLift unit has only just begun, Schwartz noted this week, and it will take time.
But eventually, those advanced pressure-vessel and heat-transfer components will make their way into the ThermoLift machine – and will make a world of difference for both production and pricing, according to the CEO, all thanks to that relatively small (and still incredibly big) MTRC funding.
“We’re taking 40 years of composite experience and applying it to our machine,” Schwartz said. “And these grants are allowing it to happen.”