Ubiquetherm: The next generation of heating and cooling

October 10, 2023
Ubiquetherm Startmate Accelerator Demo Day Founder

Every now and again you hear about a technology that has so much transformative potential that it’s hard to wrap your head around it. 

The team from Ubiquetherm humbly refers to their invention as ‘the next generation of heating and cooling.’ What they are actually creating, is a breakthrough product that could have dramatic and brilliant ramifications for virtually every human on earth - and give us an almighty leap towards solving our climate, energy, and economic challenges. 

Using cutting-edge nanomaterials, Ubiquetherm are developing new ways of regulating temperature at little to no cost.

If they succeed, they’ll deliver the world a new form of heating and cooling that is zero-emissions, needs virtually no electricity, can run 24/7 no matter the weather, and requires almost no servicing. Pretty cool.

The breakthrough

For Adrian Dorrington, the ex-NASA research fellow and co-founder of Ubiquetherm, the way our society wastes energy was a problem that he simply couldn’t wash his hands of.

“I remember turning on a kitchen tap one day and thinking how much water was wasted before the hot water came out."

“...and all that hot water was coming from a cylinder that was being heated by using electricity from thousands of kilometers away.”

Dorrington wondered if there wasn’t a better way. 

“What if we could take the heat from the room and put that into the hot water?” 

“I thought about how two items are always exchanging radiative energy and wondered how that might be manipulated so that you could get a natural heat flow. I had a feeling that it must be possible, but I wasn't sure how.”

Then one day, by chance, Dorrington - who likes to read scientific research papers in his spare time - stumbled on an article that would lead him to the answer he was searching for. 

“It was a study from Harvard about a ‘metalens’ that could focus white light without curved surfaces.”

“A normal lens is a curved piece of glass, like your glasses, or a magnifying glass. A metalens is a flat surface that acts like a curved surface because it has a nanoscale texture on it that is carefully designed so that the light passing through it interacts in a certain way and you can focus that light from what is essentially a flat surface. That was the link I needed. It was a Eureka moment.”

“It literally fell into his lap at the time he was thinking about the problem,” said John Arabshahi, CEO of Ubiquetherm. 

“That’s when I started filing the patents and got serious about turning it into a company,” said Dorrington.

When you think about heating and cooling you don’t often associate it with cameras and lenses, but for Dorrington, who was previously the CEO and CTO of Chronoptics, a machine vision, 3D camera company, the answer was clear.

“I’m an optics specialist. The way we do our heat transfer now is about optical radiation. Heat radiation is actually infrared light, so it’s actually not that different.”

“If we have two surfaces, they are constantly exchanging heat. Normally, if they are different temperatures, one will heat up and the other will cool down until they get to the same temperature. But, if we can couple the radiation between a large surface and a small surface, the large surface radiates more and cools down, while the small surface collects more and heats up, so they will settle at different temperatures.  What we do is create a conduit for radiative light.”

“With traditional heat pumps, to get heat to move from a cooler place to a hotter place, or vice versa, you need to put a lot of energy in to force it to do that. We are creating the conditions where the heat will naturally move. We can harness it and guide it to where we want it to go.”

The revolutionary potential 

When Arabshahi first met Dorrington he knew instantly that he had to be part of the Ubiquetherm journey. 

“A mutual colleague set up a 30-minute dinner for us. We ended up talking for over two hours. Then we continued that discussion for weeks and I really became convinced that it was such an elegant solution to a huge problem,” said Arabshahi. 

How big is the problem? 

“50% of energy in residential and commercial buildings goes into heating and cooling and that generates around a third of global Co2 emissions. Over 3 trillion dollars is spent on energy annually, and over 13 percent of the global population don't have access to electricity at all.” 

“Ubiquetherm could be 10 times more efficient than a heat pump and up to 50 times more efficient than other forms of heating and cooling.” 

“When it’s icy cold outside, there is still plenty of energy we can harness, and even on a 40-degree day, it’s going to do the job.”

There are over 2.6 billion people living in energy poverty and as the world heats up they are going to need relief, but will Ubiquetherm ever be cheap enough for the developing world?

“Yes,” says Arabshani, “eventually we might not need an air conditioner anymore.” 

Race against the clock 

With the threats of climate change escalating and a global energy crisis looming on the horizon, the rollout of Ubiquetherm’s technology can’t come fast enough. 

But the two founders from New  Zealand almost missed out on the chance to ‘accelerate’ their innovation journey. 

“We got the heads up about 2 pm on Friday and the Startmate application was due midnight on Sunday.”

“Our advice to other founders? Get these deadlines on your radar well in advance.” 

After nailing their application and being accepted, the team is thrilled with their Startmate experience. 

“We’ve all really come together as a cohort," said Arabshahi. “It’s great to know there’s a bunch of people out there that are on a similar journey to us and the mentorship is out of this world good.”

“Everyone brings something special to the table. What makes it quite unique is that you have access to all these different insights. You even get other people who are not in the cohort chipping in. The whole community has been really open to helping out and making certain connections. It’s just been really great.”

“Being in Startmate is like a badge of honour,” said Dorrington. 

“And you know that if you reach out to someone from any cohort they’re going to go the extra mile for you. It's the same thing when it happens to me. I’m like, oh they’re looking for people living in New Zealand. I’m like yeah, of course I’ll donate my time,” added Arabshahi.

To ubiquity and beyond!

Dorrington and Arabshahi aren’t just building a fancy air conditioner, they’re developing a ‘platform technology’. 

“A heat pump is one particular application, but it could also be used on floor heating, or even shipping containers or smaller transportable containers,” said Arabshahi. 

“It could be used to transport things like medicines or perishable goods without the need for electricity.”

“As global temperatures continue to rise and become more unpredictable, having that stability is going to be a huge factor.”

The breakthrough technology could have a mighty broad spectrum of applications, but for now, the team is focused on HVAC -   heating, cooling, and ventilation. 

“Within the next two to three years we want to be finished with the prototype phase and introducing ourselves into households or commercial buildings, and then within the next five to seven years we want to reach a global scale.” 

“We want to see a world where heating and cooling are taken for granted.” 

Global ubiquity might be an ambitious goal for some, but for the ex-NASA inventor becoming the thermostat for the entire planet isn’t where the vision ends. 

“With governments around the world and private enterprise engaged in getting people back to the moon and onto Mars, Ubiquetherm expects to play a crucial role in heating habitats and greenhouses, and making and storing cryogenic rocket fuels.’ 

If Ubuiquetherm’s tech delivers on its revolutionary promise, then solving our global climate and energy crises might be….no sweat. 

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Written by
Written by
Daniel SimonsDaniel Simons
Daniel is a writer, Startmate Media Fellow and Co-Founder of Transitions Film Festival.

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