Cooling technology poised for revolution

This North Carolina startup aims to overhaul temperature control with solid-state chips.
Phononic semiconductors

Founded in 2009 by Tony Atti, this American tech company is rapidly becoming a formidable force in the temperature control sector, using innovative solid-state chip technology that seems to be massively versatile.

Solid-state refers to the design of technologies that do not have any moving parts. It is commonly referred to in the design of modern computer hard drives (which is moving away from the convention of spinning discs) to much more efficient, ‘solid’ circuit configurations.

Phononic has found a way to apply the benefits of solid-state architecture to the business of temperature control in the form of semiconductors. Their semiconductor chips are minuscule (roughly the size of a coin), exceedingly reliable (with zero moving components) and cost-effective. Phononic’s innovative technology is set to topple conventional cooling methods such as the traditional vapor compression mechanics found in domestic (and industrial) refrigerators.

The greatest characteristic of Phononic’s products is their diminutive size. They produce temperature control that equals (and can exceed) conventional cooling technology while requiring much less physical space, leaving room for increased refrigeration capacity. That Phononic’s tech is so tiny also maximises its application to smaller devices that are privy to over-heating.

Jenny Lee, an investor and board member of Phononic, compared the company’s semiconductor tech to the impact that LED lamps had on the world of lighting manufacturing, emphasising a gradual introduction to the market. Speaking to Tech Crunch, she said:

“For a disruptive technology to be adopted quickly, we think the approach is to work with the existing ecosystem and players and enable them to be successful versus trying to establish a complete, end-to-end new product, especially if you have a compelling price performance technology, which Phononic does.”

Though the solid-state semiconductor is yet to experience its market crescendo, the technology has already been applied in small-scale sectors successfully. Phononic tech can be found in advanced hospital fridges (which rely on meticulous temperature control to preserve biological samples such as blood and tissue specimens). It has also been applied to fibre-optic cable designs, preventing their data transmissions from heating up and damaging fragile optic arteries.

“When your phone buffers when you are watching a video,” Atti explained to News & Observer, “It is because somewhere up or down the food chain an optical switch that transmits that data was slowed due to heat.”

Phononic is currently working on reducing the size of its units even further. Their heat-repellent chips may one day be found in other temperature-sensitive devices such as smartphones and lightweight computers that need powerful, yet tiny, onboard cooling solutions.