ThermoVerse is “Revolutionizing Comfort, Transforming Thermal Environments”
Shantonio Birch experienced thermal discomfort first-hand in his apartment in Ann Arbor as a graduate student at the University of Michigan.
“Entrepreneurship is a FAiThE-based journey” says Shantonio Birch, Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and Chief Technology Officer of ThermoVerse. It’s a start-up he launched with $1,489.76 in cash soon after graduating a year ago from the University of Michigan with a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering.
Birch says FAiThE is a mix of the words fate and faith. “It’s a journey that selected me. By FaiThE, I mean a journey requiring consistent effort, fortitude, and a little bit of crazy.”
Now, the immigrant from Jamaica is a member of Cohort 7 of the “Innovation Crossroads” program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) where Birch is focused on improving heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) controls and thermal management in U.S. multifamily buildings.
The start-up’s tagline is “Revolutionizing Comfort, Transforming Thermal Environments.”
He knows first-hand about thermal discomfort, having experienced it in his apartment in Ann Arbor, MI when summertime temperatures rose to unbearable highs during the 2021 COVID-19 pandemic, and there was no air conditioning. Birch also points to the Texas Deep freeze in February 2021 as an example at the opposite end of the spectrum.
The ThermoVerse solution is an envelope thermal management system that uses the walls of a building to smooth-out those hot and cold spots which Birch characterizes as “weak links” in the building envelope, also known as thermal bridges. Specifically, he’s using a technology called LATCHES, short for Large-Area Transactive Cooling, Heating and Energy Storage.
The technology combines novel semiconducting materials, which have both warming and cooling effects, working with a sensor-controlled thermal energy storage medium and a central HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) unit. The result is a resilient thermal resistance layer capable of rectifying indoor temperatures while precluding heat loss by storing and recovering the heat from the walls. The technology can be used in newly constructed buildings or those being retrofitted, using less energy while maintaining acceptable thermal comfort ranges, and resulting in less harm to the environment.
Birch submitted a provisional patent on the system after participating in the Toledo regional component of the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Program where he conducted more than 20 interviews with market rate and Section 8 renters to learn their pain points.
Since then, he has completed more than 100 customer discovery interviews in this sector and has begun exploring dual-use applications in the broader energy and mobility sectors.
That said, Birch adds that considerable work is still needed to reduce costs, quantify the carbon impact, scale and benchmark the performance of the LATCHES technology against other options.
Having the opportunity to engage with ORNL was too good to pass-up. He participated in the 10-week GEM Fellow Internship Program at ORNL in 2019, so Birch already had knowledge of the expertise that existed here.
Since graduating with his doctorate, the first-generation college student who came to the U.S. 14 years ago has been on a whirlwind, participating in a number of programs. They include the: (1) “Blueprint, by The Engine” program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; (2) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s IMPEL program; (3) the “Sullivan Family Ideator” program offered by Vanderbilt University’s the Wond’ry; and (4) the Ascend Energy & Mobility Accelerator, powered by VentureWell, TechTown Detroit, and the DOE’s EPIC Prize.