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The award-winning Phase Change Matters blog tracks the latest news and research on phase change materials and thermal energy storage. E-mail tips and comments to Ben Welter, communications director at Entropy Solutions. Follow the blog on Twitter at @PureTemp. Subscribe to the weekly PCM newsletter. Or join the discussion on LinkedIn.

Two Entropy advisors, Dr. Mohammed Farid and Lucas B. Hyman, are pleased to take your questions about PCMs and thermal energy storage. Send your questions to bwelter@puretemp.com. We'll select the best and post the answers here each week.

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Smart pet feeder keeps Fido's kibble cool with PCM

Ben Welter - Thursday, September 07, 2017

It's not much to look at, but an ingenious assembly of off-the-shelf electronic components could be just what a busy (and geeky) pet owner needs. The Mario Feeder allows users to schedule and monitor pet feedings from a smart phone and plays a personalized message alerting Fido when it's time to chow down. If Fido fails to heed the call, an alert will be sent to the owner's phone. Other features of the rotating dispenser include:

Mario FeederProximity detection: The bowl will open only when your RFID-tagged pet is nearby, to stop other animals from stealing food.

Bark detection: The feeder is "constantly listening" and will send an alert if your pet sounds distressed.

Smart scale: Tracks what your pet eats, when it eats and how much it eats.

Phase change material: Keeps perishable food cold. 

Developers have launched an Indiegogo campaign in hopes of raising $46,500 to help bring the product to market. They've also produced a video that might be the cutest ad you'll see on the Internet today:

Mario pet feeder video grab

Lead engineer Justin O'Neill answered a few PCM-focused questions by e-mail:

Q: What type of PCM is used? 

A: "We believe that the ability to keep food cold throughout the day is an important feature in a premium pet feeder, and strangely absent in competing products. We are using an organic PCM with a melting point of around 6 degrees Celsius. ... [It is] a bio-based PCM. This isn't because we believe there is a risk of food contamination (very small risk since we are using a robust casing) but more of a product life-cycle consideration with disposal."

Q: How is the PCM encapsulated? 

A: "The PCM is encapsulated in the walls and base of the main bowl, and it is recharged by placing the whole bowl into the freezer/ fridge. We did play with the idea of having separate removable compartments, but this did not fit with our ethos of reducing the total number of components. The bowl is sized so that it will fit in to most domestic freezers/ fridges (also less fiddly for the user). ... Our final design has two compartments with thicker base to hold more PCM. Prototypes have been developed with an ABS housing, but the final version could be PP or HDPE. ... We would have loved to use aluminium or stainless casing but the bowl is a fairly complex moulding and I suspect we would have ended up with high pressure die casting and a step change in cost."

Q: What are the dimensions of the product? 

A: "The bowl is ~310mm in diameter, depending on where exactly you are measuring. We tried to balance catering to larger pets with ensuring it isn't too big for apartments, and of course getting the food bowl with PCM it into a fridge/ freezer."

Q: How long does the product provide a cooling effect?

A: "Our intent is only to provide the ability to delay food spoiling, not keep it frozen or cold indefinitely. Our target has been delaying spoiling for 3-4 hours vs food being exposed, and obviously the performance varies greatly with ambient temperature, the foodstuff and volume of food. The Mario feeder allows users to set an expiration time. I.e after a specified time a particular compartment will be forbidden to expose even if the dog is near (RFID proximity detection) as food may be spoiled. By keeping food out of the sun (using proximity detection and rotating the bowl) we further improve total performance."

PCM briefing: 'New paradigm' in pharma cold chain; opening for sales manager at Sonoco ThermoSafe

Ben Welter - Monday, July 24, 2017

GoSun solar stove• The makers of the GoSun portable stove, which uses solar energy to bake, roast or steam food at temperatures up to 290° C, have raised nearly $400,000 from investors on seedinvest.com. The stove initially used high-temperature phase change material to store the sun's energy. "We abandoned the PCM a couple years ago after we started doing testing with it," said GoSun's Matt Gillespie. He said the material did not match the performance promised by the PCM maker, degrading "significantly" after just a few cycles. The current design uses compound parabolic reflectors and a horizontal vacuum tube to convert nearly 80 percent of sunlight into usable heat. The Cincinnati company has sold 10,000 stoves online and in retail outlets such as Home Depot, REI and Cabela's. GoSun plans to use the SeedInvest funds to support continued growth. 

• A “new paradigm” is evolving in the pharma cold chain to address the rapid advance in cellular and genetic therapies that require extremely low temperatures, Pharmaceutical Commerce reports.  

Bio-based chemical processes that include a thermochemical conversion step are finding favor as early forms of industrial bio-based processing mature, Chemical Processing reports.

• New from Accuray Research: "Global Thermal Energy Storage (TES) Market Analysis & Trends - Industry Forecast to 2025

• New from QYResearch: "Global High Temperature Phase Change Materials Market Research Report 2017"

• New from Future Market Insights: "Smart Fabrics Market: Global Industry Analysis and Opportunity Assessment 2016-2026"

• The University of Warwick has posted an opening for a Ph.D. studentship in thermal energy storage. The 3.5-year research position is open to candidates from the United Kingdom and European Union.  

Sonoco ThermoSafe has posted an opening for a regional sales manager

Creative Ticking of Gastonia, N.C., has announced two new PCM-based cooling technologies. Kyla treatments can be applied to fabrics at different levels depending on the desired cooling level, the company said. Kyla+ is a specially designed yarn that "is durable enough to withstand repeated washing without losing any cooling effects.” Creative Ticking is the bedding specialty division of Beverly Knits.

North Carolina company ramps up production of Temperfect mugs

Ben Welter - Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The temperature-controlled coffee mug market heated up a bit this month with word from Joeveo that it has completed the shipment of 5,000 Temperfect mugs to Kickstarter backers. The Wake Forest, N.C., startup is now contacting customers who placed subsequent orders to let them know that their mugs will soon be shipped.

Temperfect PCM mugThe 16-ounce mug uses phase change material to cool coffee or tea to a drinkable temperature and keep it there. How is the Temperfect mug ($40-$45) different from two notable competitors, the Ember ($150) and Lexo ($38-$48)?

"The Ember mug is a more complex hybrid PCM/electronic design, 12-ounce rather than 16-ounce like the Temperfect mug, and has a significantly higher price," said Joeveo's Dean Verhoeven, who launched the Kickstarter campaign in November 2013. "The electronics and battery of course allow adjustment of the hold temperature, which a straight PCM mug like the Temperfect won't do.

"The Lexo flask is easier to compare to the Temperfect, as it is strictly PCM-based, and a 16-ounce model is available. The Temperfect mug uses a higher-temperature PCM (61°C vs. 56°C), it's smaller, lighter and has more of a travel mug design rather than the traditional cylindrical thermos shape of the Lexo. It's more colorful!

"Lexo offers what I call a 'backpackable' lid, whereas the current Temperfect lid is optimized for ease of use in a car cupholder, and not for a hermetic backpack-safe seal."

Once Joeveo has caught up on current orders, are there plans to sell on Amazon or in coffee shops or brick-and-mortar stores?

"Yes, we'd like to try both," Verhoeven said. "Brick-and-mortar at some shops we like around here to see what it's like and to get some experience."

Technically speaking, PCM-infused lingerie line radiates an air of mystery

Ben Welter - Monday, February 13, 2017

Giapenta's beautiful new line of PCM-infused lingerie features soft, breathable mesh, delicate appliques and natural, moisture-wicking fabrics. As far as technical details, though, the brand’s founder is leaving much to the imagination.

Giapenta modelThe Florida startup, which launched a Kickstarter campaign last month to cover costs of its first production run, says the TempPro fabric used in the lingerie “proactively” pulls heat away to cool the body. Giapenta’s message to consumers:

“Just as you start to get warm, the phase changing materials in the fabric actively pull heat away from your body. Overheating and sweating are reduced. If you do start to get cold, stored heat is released back to you, when you need it the most.”

The company was founded by Kris Strouthopoulos, who managed Sleep Number mattress and bedding stores for 10 years. That’s where she became familiar with temperature-regulating fabrics and materials.

“Women especially would always come up to me to tell me how amazing and life changing the fabric was for them,” she said. “I always thought that if they were getting such an amazing benefit from this technology all night long, why not get the same effects during the day from their undergarments? So that is how we initially got into the lingerie industry and built a team dedicated to infusing technology and smart design solutions into garments to help improve the lives of others.”

TempPro fabric illustrationShe and her sister, Marketing VP Elena Strouthopoulos, have been working on the brand for two years. The Kickstarter campaign met its modest target of raising $25,000 in just one day, putting the company on a path to complete the production run in Canada by April and ship the first orders in May.

I contacted Kris Strouthopoulos to learn more about the TempPro fabric, which the company says is used throughout the line. What type of phase change material is used? What is its melt point? How is it encapsulated? She politely declined to answer any questions of a technical nature, saying such information is proprietary. Fair enough. We'll leave that to your imagination.

Ember temperature-control mug finally hits the market

Ben Welter - Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ember Technologies, which raised more than $360,000 on IndieGoGo last year, has finally released its flagship product, the temperature-controlled Ember mug.

The $149 mug is being delivered to nearly 2,000 IndieGoGo backers and is available for purchase at dozens of Starbucks outlets in the United States. The mug quickly sold out at starbucks.com (it's back in stock today) and is on backorder on embertech.com, with delivery promised in January.

"The release of the Ember mug is seven years in the making. I started Ember to solve a simple yet universal challenge faced by coffee and tea drinkers everywhere — how can I keep my hot beverage at the ideal temperature for as long as I want," Ember Technologies founder and CEO Clay Alexander said in a news release.

Cutaway of Ember mugThe Ember mug uses phase change material and a microprocessor-controlled heating system to maintain hot beverages at temperatures set by the user.

Hot beverages are usually served around 160° Fahrenheit — far too hot to drink. Which means coffee drinkers must typically wait for their java to cool to drinkable temperature, commonly 135°. That's where Ember's phase change cooling technology makes a big difference. The PCM in Ember's lining absorbs the excess heat to rapidly cool the drink and then works in concert with a battery-powered heating element to keep the drink hot.

The Ember mug can maintain a temperature for about two hours on the go or indefinitely when on its slim charging coaster. A twist of the base adjusts the temperature. A mobile app allows users to set and select temperature profiles for coffee, tea or other beverages.

A few early reviews:

• "Beautiful packaging and works flawlessly. I also put in cold water and had it heat to 133. Very cool. Should have ordered an extra coaster." — Christopher Hall, IndieGoGo backer

• "Wish I had another charger and vehicle charger. Two hours is not very long, especially for a second cup of coffee once in town or for the drive back home after shopping day is done. Another wish is that the cup made notification sounds or at least flash 'ready,' Different colors in the display would be great too. Lovin' the temp stays hot!" — Heather Baker, IndieGoGo backer

• "Ember keeps my coffee and tea at the perfect temperature for hours on end. I don't scald my mouth anymore or have to put my drink in the microwave when it's too cold. It's perfect for traveling, everyday use, and going on cold walks when all you want is a warm drink. I highly recommend and a few of my friends already have one for the holidays." — Tayto, Los Angeles, Calif., on starbucks.com

• "Want it hotter or colder? Adjust the temp on the mug or in the app. Works amazing and holds temp for hours. Can't wait to see what else comes out of Ember!" — Eric, Carlsbad, Calif., on starbucks.com

PCM briefing: SpecialChem offers online course on patent infringement; EnergyNest turns to crowdfunding

Ben Welter - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

• A SpecialChem online course, "U.S. Patents: How to Avoid Infringement Issues," is set for 10 a.m. EDT Tuesday. The 90-minute course is designed for "R&D people who need to become familiar with patent searching and mapping." The cost for up to three participants on one connection is 290 euros. 

• New market research from Technavio: "Global Baby Warming Devices Market 2016-2020." Embrace, a nonprofit company that introduced a PCM-based warmer in India in 2011, is among the vendors listed in the report, which projects a compound annual growth rate of 8.74 percent for the sector. 

EnergyNest of Norway is turning to crowdfunding to finance development of its concrete-based thermal energy storage system.

• A University of British Columbia study shows that snow cleared from winter roads can help reduce summer air-conditioning costs.

Axiom Exergy of Richmond, Calif., has been granted a U.S. patent for its PCM-based "direct expansion" thermal energy storage system designed for supermarket refrigeration and commercial HVAC markets.

• The venture fund Breakout Labs has invested an undisclosed amount of money in Seatrec of Pasadena, Calif. Seatrec makes a battery designed to power underwater research vessels. The battery is packed with phase change materials that expand and contract as ocean temperatures fluctuate. The volume change generates high pressure that is stored and subsequently used to drive a small electric generator.

PCM briefing: Ember sets ship date for $149 mug; va-q-tec plans IPO on Frankfurt exchange

Ben Welter - Thursday, September 08, 2016

Ember Technologies, which raised more than $350,000 on IndieGoGo last fall to develop a temperature-adjustable mug, sent backers a long-awaited update this week: "We are excited to inform you that we plan to start shipping Ember mugs in the second half of October." Delivery was initially set for April 2016. The $149 mug uses phase change material and a microprocessor-controlled heating system to maintain hot beverages at temperatures set by the user.

Va-q-tec AG is preparing for an initial public offering on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. The company, based in Würzburg, Germany, hopes to raise 45 million euros ($50.6 million USD) to expand its "serviced rental" business and production capacity. Va-q-tec develops, manufactures and sells vacuum insulation panels and phase change materials.

Ice Energy CEO Mike Hopkins and CALMAC's director of energy services, Evan Berger, will be among the speakers at the Energy Storage North America conference in San Diego, Calif., Oct. 4-6.

Invention promises 'eco friendly ice cooling' on a small scale

Ben Welter - Monday, August 01, 2016

Geizeer tabletop coolerTwo Italians have raised more than $310,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign for a tabletop air-cooling unit.

The Geizeer consists of a wooden shell, a rechargeable battery, a fan and an ice pack filled with a nontoxic eutectic gel. Damiano Iannini and Ferdinando Petrella say their invention can lower the temperature of 12-square-meter room by 3 degrees Celsius for about 4 hours. They estimate the operating cost to be 1 cent per day. Each unit sells for about $95, with delivery promised in September.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1886315350/geizeer-eco-friendly-ice-cooling/description

PCM coaster is designed to keep canned beer cold

Ben Welter - Monday, July 25, 2016

Two Hungarians are working to raise $25,000 on Indiegogo to fund development of BoozePad, an aluminum-and-plastic coaster designed to keep canned beer and other beverages cold. Inside is a phase change material of their own creation, a salt-and-water paste with a freeze point of minus 14 to 18 degrees Celsius.

Boozepad photoIn an email interview, Viktor Kurucz and Zsombor Kaló said similar products on the market only slow warming: "BoozePad is the only device [we've tested] that effectively cools the beer and keeps the preferred low temperature." 

They added: "BoozePad is absolutely local: idea, testings, design and development to the prototype has all been happened within the boundaries of Budapest. Mass production will take place also locally. It is important for us to supervise the production personally, and diminish the biological footprint."

A single BoozePad costs $10, with delivery promised in October. With a month to go, the Indiegogo campaign has raised a little over $2,000, well short of the team's $25,000 goal.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/boozepad-keep-your-beer-cool-while-you-drink-it--3#/