is Now Cool

This summer the US collectively used massive amounts of energy to cool our homes, stores and factories. To meet our climate goals we need more innovators like these to bring fascinating new ways to stay cool

We use a lot of energy to cool things down.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) the manufacturing industry used almost 61 million MWh for cooling and refrigeration. In our homes, we used even more. Almost 330 million MWh were used for cooling and refrigeration.  For comparison, that is around 10% of ALL electricity produced in 2001. Finding new ways to reduce this number will be extremely important to meet our climate goals.

But massive energy use is not the only issue. Many cooling systems use chemicals like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  However, these and other chemicals used in cooling have been shown to damage our ozone layer and have Global Warming Potentials (GWP) tens of thousands of times higher than carbon dioxide.  For example, according to the EPA, one ton of HCFC-22 has the same effect on global warming as 14,800 tons of CO2.

To combat the ozone depleting nature of the fluorocarbons, in 1987 the US signed the Montreal Protocol. Since 2010, the focused on reducing HCFC’s.  According to The World Bank “In addition to the ozone benefit, the HCFC phase-out agenda strongly emphasizes climate mitigation and energy efficiency. Climate gains are achieved by using substances with lower or no global warming potential and, large energy efficiency improvements can be achieved through certain technology upgrades.”

All of this contributes to the growing need for cleantech innovation in cooling and refrigeration.


Below are 5 startups that are all taking unique approaches to this issue


Phononic is using solid-state thermoelectric cooling technology to improve efficiency and reduce the size of refrigeration technology. They have gained a lot of tracktion, having raised $87.9M in funding according to CrunchBase. They were also recently listed as a CNBC Disrupter 50

“Founder and CEO Tony Atti was a director at MHI Energy Partners, a boutique private-equity firm, when he recognized the opportunity to improve cooling and refrigeration systems back in 2009. His company’s solid-state technology replaces the mechanical compressors and heat-exchange systems that power traditional refrigerators. By eliminating these moving parts, Phononic’s units are nearly silent and use about 25 percent less energy. “


ThermoLift has developed a fuel-agnostic heat pump that can be used to heat or cool your home, AND replace your water boiler. They do this while reducing building HVAC costs by 30-50%.

In 2016, they were a CET Challenge Finalist. They have also presented their technology for the Advanced Energy Economy conference and the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.


NETenergy is CET Portfolio company developing thermal energy storage systems. They have created what is essentially a battery but instead of storing electrical energy for later use, NETenergy’s battery stores heat energy. By storing cold energy “building owners can save 30% or more on their energy usage and reduce carbon emissions by 50%.”

NETenergy is working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory through the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator program to continue developing their technology.

Skycool Systems

Skycool Systems was spun out of Stanford University using the coldness of outer space to create hyper-efficient air conditioning. They were also featured at ARPA-E.

According to the MIT Technology Review

“The idea is to exploit a natural phenomenon called radiative cooling. All objects emit thermal radiation. When it’s emitted toward the sky, a portion of it is absorbed and reflected by the atmosphere. Another portion, which falls within a particular range of frequencies, escapes into the upper atmosphere and outer space, where conditions are much colder. This can cause the object emitting that radiation to cool to below the temperature of the surrounding air.”

Axiom Exergy

Axiom Exergy has developed technology to store central refrigeration for customers like grocery stores. This allows them to reduce energy costs as they shift.

From Ag Funder News:

“Axiom Energy… has closed a $2.5 million venture round with Tesla CTO JB Straubel, Nevada-based angel investors Sierra Angels, breakthrough tech investors Propel(x), seed stage angel group MIT Angels, multi-boutique asset manager Victory Capital, and cleantech investors Element 8. The device is aimed at helping business like grocery stores and food warehouses or distribution centers cut the amount of energy they use. It also has a backup cooling capacity to help keep food from spoiling in the event of a power outage. According to Amrit Robbins, co-founder and president of Axiom, central refrigeration comprises over 9 percent of the electricity used in commercial buildings in the US. He also notes that the energy consumed at supermarkets is three times higher per square foot than retail stores in other segments.”

By Alex Foucault | August 31, 2016