There are big problems and then there are BIG problems. Cooling electronics, for example. How do you keep large server farms from overheating and how can you extend the battery life of laptops and other portable electronics? “We are currently using over three percent of the nation’s energy on cooling the Internet,” says Dustin Miller, PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and the co-founder, with UW MBA Daniel Rossi, of Nanocel. The company, which won the $25,000 grand prize at the UW’s Business Plan Competition in May 2009, is introducing affordable fluid-based cooling systems for computer chips. “Industry calculations say that fluid-based cooling could cut energy use in half,” explained Miller. “That’s a staggering amount.”
Nanocel’s technology uses a combination of microfluidics and novel, moldable plastic materials to cool devices more cheaply than other liquid-based systems and more efficiently than cooling fans. The products use thousands to millions of very thin (between one and 100 micrometers wide) vessels to circulate tiny amounts of liquid in close contact with the computer chips or other device components prone to overheating. The original process was developed at the University of Washington for food packaging. “So, for the cost of a coffee cup, you can have a heat sink that used to be made out of copper,” Rossi added.
Rossi’s market research demonstrated that Nanocel wouldn’t have to look far for potential customers and partners. Computer chip manufacturers and designers are obvious candidates, but Nanocel is also talking with companies that make gaming consoles, servers and hardware. “There are tons of shelf-ready products that can’t go to market because they’re too hot,” Rossi says. Fans aren’t powerful enough to cool them down, and liquid technologies are too pricey.
Since the competition, the Nanocel founders have incorporated the company and are gearing up for their first angel funding round in early 2010.
(We’d like to thank Rachel Tompa, Xconomy Seattle, who wrote a longer version of this article. The full story is here.)