ThermoLift inks GTI collaboration deal

Paul Schwartz: ThermoLift is benefiting from collaboration, innovation and a big lift from China.

By GREGORY ZELLER // Stony Brook-based startup ThermoLift has a powerful new ally as it prepares second-phase testing of its revolutionary heating/cooling pump for the rigors of proof-of-concept testing.

In its quest to commercialize an affordable, natural gas-powered water- and air- unit that makes green energy universally available, ThermoLift has partnered with the Gas Technology Institute, a Chicago-based R&D and training organization serving the U.S. natural gas industry.

Engineers from GTI, which quietly entered into a collaborative agreement with ThermoLift in September, will contribute designs and hardware that will be included in ThermoLift’s second-generation pump, a single device that heats and cools air and water and has the potential to reduce commercial and residential energy consumption by up to 50 percent, according to ThermoLift CEO Paul Schwartz.

Schwartz said his startup “expects a lot” from the GTI collaboration, citing the Chicago organization’s strong history of developing “natural gas technologies for a broad range of applications.”

“We expect an advanced burner design for commercial production,” Schwartz told Innovate LI. “State of the art, with ultra-low emissions.”

Paul Glanville, GTI’s managing director of end-use solutions, declined to discuss the collaboration, noting only that the institute is a nonprofit research entity that “doesn’t endorse any one technology over another” and would reserve comments on ThermoLift and its proprietary pump until Phase 2 testing is complete.

A state-of-the-art heating/cooling unit with ultra-low emissions is ThermoLift’s Holy Grail. Launched by Schwartz in 2012, the startup aims to redefine the energy industry by putting affordable, greener energy alternatives within reach of consumers. In addition to reducing carbon footprints, ThermoLift promises to provide significant up-front savings for homeowners when compared to the combination of systems currently providing air conditioning, heating and hot water for homes and businesses.

The GTI collaboration took about a year to develop, after GTI representatives visited ThermoLift’s space at the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center at Stony Brook University and heard a presentation on ThermoLift’s ambitions and technology.

“They stayed in contact and we looked for an opportunity to collaborate,” Schwartz noted.

That opportunity presented itself with ThermoLift’s second-phase model, which is currently in development and “takes advantage of everything we learned from the first unit,” according to Schwartz. Advances based directly on the trials, errors and successes of the first prototype include “new manufacturing solutions and electronics solutions,” the CEO said, as well as optimized designs for the pump’s heat-exchange systems.

The GTI collaboration may also provide a financial boost. Schwartz has already landed multiple investments, including a  $75,000 seed from private investors including former KeySpan and National Grid chief executive Robert Catell, who now chairs the AERTC.

This year, ThermoLift closed a $2.75 million VC round that included follow-on investments by the Long Island Angel Network and Roslyn-based Topspin Partners, one of the investment firms backing the LIETF.

But saving the energy world is not an inexpensive prospect, and Schwartz was happy to report that his new friends at the GTI would also be exploring “potential co-funding opportunities” from within the utility industry.

Funding aside, GTI’s first mechanical and design contributions should come in time for scheduled testing at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, slated for the first quarter of 2016.

And further GTI contributions should make it into ThermoLift’s first-ever manufacturing order, a “short run” of 10 to 20 units specifically for field-testing purposes later in 2016, according to Schwartz.