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Small Businesses Receive $2 Million to Advance HVAC Technologies

March 24, 2014 - 5:55pm

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The U.S. Department of Energy announced March 20, 2014, approximately $2 million to advance next generation water heating technologies developed by America’s small businesses.

The two selected Phase II projects—one by Sheetak of Austin, Texas, and the other by Xergy Inc. of Seaford, Del.—received awards under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a government-wide effort to leverage small businesses’ technical expertise. Sheetak and Xergy are approaching water heating in entirely new ways, offering better performance while still placing a premium on affordability.

SOLID-STATE = SOLID SAVINGS

Sheetak is using its innovative solid-state heat pump technology to develop a new generation of water heaters. This thin film, thermoelectric technology has the potential to significantly reduce the electrical energy consumed in water heating—without affecting the cost. Besides water heating, it can also be used in a variety of other appliances and HVAC systems.

SBIR projects are split into two phases:

  • In Phase I, which was completed recently, Sheetak developed a scaled-down version of a solid-state water heater prototype.
  • In Phase II, Sheetak will work on developing a full scale prototype, using its thin film thermoelectric modules.

Furthermore, Sheetak plans to commercialize its U.S.-made thermoelectric modules, seeking out both the domestic and international market. These solid-state heat pump elements not only have the potential to dramatically change the way we heat water, but can also operate quietly and reliably, all at a low cost.

WATER OVER VAPOR

Xergy is transforming heat pump technology with its electrochemical compressor. By using water as the working fluid, rather than a refrigerant, which contributes to climate change and is used by the vapor-compression systems in current water heaters, Xergy’s technology can operate with zero global warming potential. The electrochemical compressor creates a refrigeration cycle by producing a small volume of lightly pressurized hydrogen from electricity, leveraging hydrogen’s excellent thermodynamic characteristics, as well as existing proton-exchange-membrane (PEM) technology.

In Phase I of this project, Xergy developed the technology for an electrochemical compressor (ECC) suitable for a 50 gallon unit, which is both more efficient than current mechanical compressors, but also scalable. The technology uses a new high performance, low cost membrane configuration suitable for ECC use. In Phase II, Xergy will create a prototype heat pump hybrid hot water heater using their electrochemical compressor.

DOE + Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)

These awards are part of the Department’s larger efforts to help small businesses develop prototype technologies that could:

  • Improve manufacturing energy efficiency,
  • Reduce the cost of installing clean energy projects, and
  • Generate electricity from renewable energy sources. 

In total, $17 million has been awarded to 17 SBIR projects in 13 states. These projects will focus on developing clean energy technologies with a strong potential for commercialization and job creation. 

The awards are for Phase II projects to further develop Phase I projects and produce a prototype or equivalent within two years.  See the full list of SBIR projects and find more information on the Department’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

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