Phononic, a North Carolina based startup, is using a material called bismuth telluride to make so-called cooling chips for refrigeration appliances. These chips could replace the traditionally used chemicals which destroy the ozone layer and pollute water sources. Last week, the company secured $50 million (€42,470,000) from Goldman Sachs Asset Management in funding.
Tony Atti, Phononic co-founder and CEO explained that “when electricity runs through the chip the current takes heat with it leaving one side of the chip to cool and the other to heat up.”
The size of the chips varies from a fraction of a fingernail to as big as a fist depending on how many coolants are needed. Until now, they have been used to create compact freezers for vaccine transportation or for ice-cream at convenience stores.
It’s about “cooling and heating our modern world responsibly, without toxic refrigerants,” states the company. “The historical refrigerants that had been used for vapor compression systems, they are both toxic and global warming contributors,” adds Atti.
Although the global warming impact has been reduced in recent years, toxicity and flammability remain an issue. Phononics’ bismuth telluride chips can be recycled or disposed as it meets all chip safety and disposal standards, after the powder is processed into a semiconductor wafer and made into a chip, and loses its toxicity.
The chips are manufactured in Phononic’s facility in Durham and the company is working with Thailand-based Fabrinet for mass production. The freezers for vaccines and ice-cream are built in China by contract manufacturers and carry the brands of Phononic’s customers or in some cases are co-branded, he said.
The funding will be used to build out high-volume manufacturing and to expand Phononic’s markets and product line.
Atti said the company was “north of half a billion dollars”. Previous investors include Temasek Holdings and private equity and venture capital firm Oak Investment Partners.
Phononics aims to produce things “previously unimaginable”, from cooling mattresses and motorbike helmets to cooling outdoor installations.