Storyball may have been the best startup in a tightly-contested final round at Pioneers ’19 – but SolCold was certainly the coolest! An Israeli company just like the winner, they know a thing or two about roasting temperatures and how uncomfortable they can be. SolCold’s core business is dealing with that discomfort. And, as is fairly typical for entrepreneurs from that part of the world, they’re doing so with a uniquely efficient use of resources.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but in essence SolCold directly harnesses the sun’s heat to cool things down.
When the sun hits your car, in the normal course of events, the vehicle slowly begins to cook. But not when SolCold’s coating is applied to the surface! The more heat you bring on, the more the coating (and consequently the car) will cool down. And the difference is not insubstantial: if it’s 40 degrees outside, you can expect a drop to 25 degrees.
Basically the coating ejects heat in the form of photons, in other words turns heat into light. In terms of the results you’ll get in a given situation, two factors are at play. The coating requires the presence of sunlight to work, so the longer you have sunlight – ideally direct – the better. But the efficiency also depends on the amount of ambient heat.
If you’re in the Arctic in summer, in other words, you’ll have a lot of sunlight but not a lot of cooling effect thanks to the ambient temperature. Which, as Shenhav points out, is a fine thing because you probably need your head read if you want to cool things in the Arctic. (Unless, perhaps, you’re freezing the morning’s grayling catch…) So there’s a self-regulating element to the technology, where the temperature level will automatically tend towards a human comfort level.
“The hotter it is, the more efficient we are,” explains SolCold’s Co-Founder Yaron Shenhav. “Because we extract the heat from the material, the more heat you have in the material the more you can extract. For this reason it will always maintain nice temperatures – it will never cool down too much.”
While the initial marketing (and pitching) focus for SolCold centers around the familiar problem of trying to get into a roasting vehicle in hot places during summer, you don’t need to have your thinking cap on for long to see just how many applications a ‘cooling paint’ might have.
“You have to start somewhere,” says Shenhav, whose company is in an intense R&D phase and still working with small-scale samples. “We started with cars because it is something we all can relate to. I wish I had the solution on my car already, because sometimes it’s impossible to get in!
“But this is a good solution for a lot of things. For buildings, for planes sitting on runways and even for sunscreen. You could put it on chocolate packaging or you could put it on the back of your phone. You can use it in many ways either to save energy or in places that don’t have energy at all. It’s pretty much endless.
“In India more than 50% of agriculture doesn’t reach the market, and it’s because they don’t have the right cooling conditions.”
Coat a truck, storage unit or building with SolCold’s solution, however, and the fruit and veggies will enjoy some mild refrigeration during the logistics process.
There are a few things to point out. One is that there won’t be much effect when a vehicle is actually on the move – the technology works in stationary situations. Secondly, it’s a constant cooling process – it’s not like you have a one-off temperature drop and then you car starts to roast again. And finally, although the startup hasn’t physically tried this yet, there are no theoretical limits with regard to the size of the surface to be cooled. “There is no difference regarding size,” says Shenhav. “You can cover an entire ship.”
By now you’re almost certainly thinking, ‘This sounds a lot like Anti-Stokes Fluorescence cooling!’ If so, you’re right on the mark. That’s what SolCold is using. Their patent is more about taking the idea away from microscopic lab work and into the real world – and they put together two layers to achieve a cooling effect specifically using sunlight.
We’d love to go into more detail on that, but Shenhav would only reveal this: “We’re using a known mechanism and materials but multi-layered, with a lot of frequencies so that it can be activated by the sun. The IP is for the system itself – how it is put together. If you only have one layer, it will not work!”
Sadly it’s not going to help us this northern summer. SolCold will need a little more time before it’s ready to coat our office building with cool magic – but bring it on for 2020!
Stay tuned for further detailed articles on each of our finalists from Pioneers ’19.