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Microstaq's Tiny Valves Mean Big Energy Savings

Making air conditioners more energy efficient through the use of semiconductor-based valves would not only reduce the average air conditioning bill by some 20 to 30 percent, but would save the equivalent of 1.2 billion barrels of oil annually. That’s according to the Microstaq team, which are showing off their tiny valves at the Demo conference this week. And like the new “Harry Potter” movie, such energy-saving air conditioners will hit the market in the summer of next year.

Microstaq is a manufacturer of microelectromechanical machines (MEMS), silicon-based chips that combine that digital information with the analog world (such as the microphone inside your cell phone that translate your voice into digital signals for wireless networks). The Microstaq MEM is a tiny, computer-controlled valve that aims to replace the larger and more expensive expansion valves used in air conditioning and refrigeration (shown at left). It’s more accurate than non-electrical valves and can keep the temperature better regulated, leading to the efficiencies.

Microstaq has attached the chip to a larger casing, so the MEM is easy to drop into place without re-engineering the entire air conditioning unit (shown at bottom). The 8-year-old company, which to date has raised $12.5 million, says it has signed deals with three of the top five U.S. air conditioning makers but cannot name them. It also plans to go after the industrial refrigeration market. Sandeep Kumar, Microstaq’s CEO, says the cost of the chip will be equivalent to the cost of the valves already in use today, which are about $15.

He doesn’t expect to see these valves in residential refrigeration systems anytime soon, because they are currently cooled with capillary tubes that cost about $3 — making the chip-based solution way more expensive — unless a government mandate changes things.

In the meantime, the firm is also working to put its valves inside automobile transmissions in a bid to improve fuel efficiency and lower the costs of providing a smooth-shifting manual transmission. The medical diagnostics market can also use the devices to reduce the size and cost of machines that test blood. Other uses, such as those that involve insertion in the body, are possible as well, but would require FDA approval.

6 Responses to “Microstaq's Tiny Valves Mean Big Energy Savings”

  1. Stacey Higginbotham

    John, the capillary tubes are used in residential refrigerators, not air conditioners. The savings for A/Cs are based on replacing the expansion valve with a computer controlled valve that can dictate where the phase change occurs across the evaporator, so it happens at the most appropriate point to result in the coldest air without wasting energy.

  2. It is not true that most residential air conditioners use capillary tubes. Since the SEER 13 standard virtually all units have TXVs and prior to that fixed orifices rather than cap tubes have been the standard for many years.

    Secondly I would love to see where a 20% energy savings is available given the primary thing this device can do is reduce the amount of superheat returning to the compressor and compared to a TXV the savings do not approach 20%.