With Big Funding, Phononic CEO Targets New Cooling Applications
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cooling needs for data centers and telecommunications equipment, among other applications. Customers are already using Phononic’s devices for electronics cooling. Atti says such opportunities were apparent at an earlier stage of Phononic’s development, before Atti chose home refrigerators as the company’s first target.
Phononic’s work on home refrigerators revealed a new opportunity that wasn’t initially apparent, Atti says—cooling for laboratories and hospitals. Unlike compressors, Phononic’s solid-state heat pump has no moving parts. That means Phononic’s devices don’t create vibrations and noise, nor do they require an intake fan and exhaust like conventional refrigerators. While those features might go unnoticed by consumers, they stand out to medical professionals and researchers. They tell Phononic the technology is ideal for laboratories and medical facilities, which need to keep lab samples and biological products in a uniformly cool and undisturbed environment.
In September, Phononic announced that Raleigh, NC-based hospital Rex Healthcare would be a test site for the company’s new line of commercial refrigerators for labs and medical facilities. Phononic is now taking orders for laboratory and medical refrigeration applications, which should ship in 2015. Though home refrigerators were the company’s first target, Atti says it takes time to integrate the technology into refrigerator production lines. He expects the first home refrigerators employing Phononic’s heat pumps will reach the market next year, in both Asia and the United States.
Before founding Phononic in 2009, Atti worked in energy technology and also as an energy tech investor; he is a former director at MHI Energy Partners, a seed and early-stage private equity fund. Phononic’s technology comes from semiconductor and thermoelectric research at the University of Oklahoma, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the California Institute of Technology. While Phononic is currently focused on cooling applications, Atti acknowledges that the company’s thermoelectric devices can also be used to create heat and he says the company is exploring heating applications.
Heating applications could mean the creation of a third business unit within Phononic. That pursuit could move it closer to the work of other thermoelectric startups. Both GMZ Energy, a Waltham, MA, company, and Hayward, CA-based Alphabet Energy have developed technologies to convert heat into electricity. But for now, Atti won’t disclose where Phononic plans to go with heat applications of its technology, other than to say “there are interesting consumer products on the road map.”