- Paul Schwartz, CEO/Co-Founder, Thermolift
- Jonathan Haas, Senior Vice President, Thermolift
Innovative heat pump saves energy while protecting the environment
Whether the goal is to save energy, save money or save the environment, ThermoLift’s TC-Cycle™ air conditioner and cold climate heat pump holds the promise of addressing all three issues. The system bypasses the electrical grid and instead uses natural gas via the existing distribution pipeline which has very little loss—5% compared to 65% losses from power plants producing electricity.
TC-Cycle™ utilizes an innovative thermodynamic cycle, moving a working gas, such as helium, between three chambers within a closed system. The gas is first heated, driving up the pressure, then heat is extracted, which drops the pressure and sends the cold gas into the bottom chamber. This cycle is repeated 300 times a minute, explained Paul Schwartz, ThermoLift’s CEO, and captured heat from the environment is distributed throughout the house.
For cooling, the TC-Cycle™ utilizes helium rather than hydrofluorocarbon (HFCs) refrigerants, which are greenhouse gases known for having high global warming potential. The heat within the building is brought into the ThermoLift unit, chilled and then redistributed via the air conditioning ductwork, while the heat that was extracted is sent into the hot water system, for free, and any excess is released through an outside heat exchanger.
This unique system is an extremely efficient way of capturing heat energy, versus traditional heat pumps that waste electricity to create mechanical force and heat, by avoiding the losses associated with the energy conversions and phase changes required by conventional compressor based heat pump systems.
“By using helium instead of refrigerant, and by using natural gas as our energy source, we have a highly efficient heating, hot water and air-conditioning system in one machine,” said Schwartz. “Depending on the environment in which it’s used, we can achieve a 30 to 50% reduction in building HVAC costs as well as associated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
That’s a lot of responsibility for a well-insulated cylinder that measures only 18 inches in diameter and is roughly four-and-a-half feet tall!
Nearly a century of research
While the TC-Cycle itself is new, it’s based on a thermodynamic cycle concept that was first was patented back in 1918, and was subsequently used over the years in various projects, including one in the 1960s, with the USAF and NASA who were exploring the process for cryogenic cooling. Some thirty years later, there was another joint venture—this time involving a project team at Bosch Viessman Energie led by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Peter Hofbauer, which resulted in the development of a Vuilleumier Heat Pump.
In 2012, Dr. Hofbauer and Schwartz collaborated on developing a more efficient HVAC technology based on Vuilleumier Heat Pump (VHP). This led to the founding of ThermoLift, with Jonathan Haas, who had been working with the two men, officially joining the company as senior vice president in 2013.
The patented system is built around a core technology, also patented, that transformed the original VHP’s mechanical system into an advanced mechanical/electronic or mechatronic system that allowed a greater versatility of control. It incorporates innovations such as an ultra-low-emission combustion burner, electronically-controlled actuators for cycle efficiency improvement, and innovative heat exchangers.
ThermoLift has raised more than $12 million in funding, starting with Bob Catell, the company’s first direct investor, followed by grants from the US Department of Energy, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Wells Fargo Incubation Innovator (IN²), run by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. TopSpin and the Long Island Angels have also invested in the company, said Schwartz, adding that a lead investor is committed for additional capital for the next 12 to 24 months.
The funding has enabled ThermoLift to continue its research and development. “The project is now at Gen 3.0 stage and we have plans to conduct field tests Q1/Q2 of 2018,” said Haas. “The goal is to have small-scale commercialization and production by late 2018/early 2019. That’s an optimistic outlook since there is a lot that still needs to be done. But that’s the goal.”
The market potential is significant, with applications for residential and commercial buildings. “The military has also shown interest in our system,” said Schwartz, “with three military bases requesting demonstration opportunities.”
The benefits of the CEBIP alliance
Both Schwartz and Haas have high praise for CEBIP and David Hamilton. “The association has been invaluable for ThermoLift,” said Schwartz. “David recognized the opportunity and then helped us organize our initial investor presentations. Through the CEBIP Board, we were able to refine it, and then through the qualification of CEBIP, that we were introduced to the Long Island Angels”—which subsequently led to their introduction to TopSpin—“so without that flow, we don’t get our capital.”
He also credits CEBIP with the introduction to both the Advanced Energy Center, where the company is based, as well as Stony Brook University, “and we’ve hired quite a number of students through Stony Brook as well. CEBIP has performed a very critical function for us.”
In a sense, Hamilton also acted as a matchmaker, since it was through an entrepreneurial studies program he organized at Stony Brook that brought Schwartz and Haas together. While initially the relationship was an informal one, once the company received the funding to start the R&D process, Haas took on his current position.
“The seminars, meetings and access to resources that David and CEBIP have provided are unmatched,” said Haas. “David is always there, always planning something to bring all the tenants together and expose them to resources or assets or programs that could benefit us in our development. CEBIP brought us to our first investor and it’s been a snowball effect since then. We utilized their resources to fullest extent. It’s the network, too, being with the other entrepreneurs and being exposed to the Long Island community and Stony Brook University—it’s been very, very good.”