The Department of Energy earlier this week announced $18 million in funding grants from the recovery act to support innovation coming from small clean energy businesses. Here’s a look at three of the recipients focused on the green building industry: Chelix, KaZaK and Trinity Thermal Systems. The technologies developed could find ready customers in the growing U.S. green building retrofit market, which is expected to reach $2.1 billion-$3.7 billion on an annual basis by 2014.
Chelix ($150,000): will develop transparent paints that are highly reflective and if applied to roofs could reduce the amount of heat buildings absorb. The Hawthorne, NY-based company (its R&D is based in Sunnyvale, Calif.) aims to develop a “full polymer system,” essentially advanced plastic materials, that can reflect the invisible heat radiation contained in sunlight. Yingqiu Jiang, general manager for Chelix, tells us that the company believes it can “break” these polymers into a pigment, or white powder, that could then be mixed with a clear ink to create a transparent paint.
So-called “cool roofs” have become increasingly popular recently. Most commonly, roofing materials are simply painted white so that the house underneath absorbs less heat than dark-colored roofs, thereby reducing the need for cooling. But many architects and consumers don’t want to paint their roofs white, Jiang said. “Our technology will have minimal impact on the design color of roofs,” she told us.
KaZaK Composites ($150,000): will develop a highly automated process for producing mass-market structural plastic building panels with high-performance insulating properties. The Woburn, Mass.-based company aims to build plastic panels infused with phase-change materials that could replace conventional plywood in the building industry. These advanced materials are capable of storing and releasing large amounts of energy as they change from solid to liquid, helping to stabilize the indoor temperatures in buildings by, say, releasing heat absorbed during the day at night when the outside air cools down.
Nth Power and the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, in a report published earlier this month, identified phase change materials as one of the “revolutionary innovations” on the horizon in green building. It’s unclear if KaZaK intends to develop the phase change materials itself or use an outside supplier. The company didn’t respond to requests for comment. What is clear from the company’s web site is that it specializes in designing, building and operating “low-cost manufacturing” equipment of composite materials. If KaZaK is aiming for the mass market with these next-gen building panels, then cheap production would be one step in the right direction.
Trinity Thermal Systems ($150,000): will develop a “novel thermal energy storage system” that can easily and inexpensively be retrofitted onto smaller, unitary air conditioning units commonly used in small- to mid-sized commercial buildings. The Flower Mound, Texas-based startup calls its technology IceCycle. The system captures power from the grid during nighttime, off-peak periods and stores it in chilled water contained in a thermal reservoir. During hot days the cold water is then used as a refrigerant and can reduce air conditioning operating costs up to 20 percent, according to Trinity’s web site.
Thermal energy storage has been around for decades, but Trinity believes it can develop a simple and reliable product that can be adapted to the many commercial air conditioning applications on the market. The company says it’s done field demonstrations with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a trade group, and the municipal utility Austin Energy.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user O b s k u r a