We may be on the verge of a cooling revolution
We are just at the beginning of the LED revolution, with semiconductors pumping out light. The next big disruption may well be semiconductor cooling. It's been around for a hundred years in little Peltier devices that power some little refrigerated coolers and cool computer chips, but now startup Phononic has scaled it up and made it more efficient. They are making thermoelectric heat pumps that can power refrigerators and other devices with no moving parts, no toxic refrigerants, and finally, no noise. Katie Fehrenbacher of GigaOM says they are close to launching wine coolers and window air conditioners. Investors are impressed; the company just raised $44 million.
Phononic compressor compared to conventional compressor/Screen capture
They try to push the envelope on their website, imagining consumer products that might take advantage of this kind of cooling device, most of which involve keeping your beer and Coke cool. For the den: "Whether you’re watching the big game or your favorite movie, sit back and enjoy a cold one. Your TV stand or coffee table already has your beverages chilled and ready to go." But the impact on the home could be far greater, and go far beyond just the fridge. Instead of window air conditioners, we could have radiant cooling and heating on a room-by-room basis on demand. They may help end our air conditioned nightmare; a few years back ARPA noted that:
Phononic Devices [devices are projected to] dramatically improve thermoelectric efficiency from less than 10 percent today to more than 30 percent, resulting in a dollar-per-watt energy savings of 75 percent for power generation and 60 percent for cooling, respectively.”
Their first commercial product appears to be a mini-fridge for medical and laboratory storage; these need to be reliable and clean, offering "premium protection of valuable samples required by highly discerning users without compressors or toxic refrigerants". It will probably be full of medicine for heart disease and diabetes thanks to the fact that for the retail market, "No noise means you can have a refrigerator in your family room or next to your bed without knowing it’s there."
But it's the early days yet; remember all the silly LED things we showed on TreeHugger a few years ago. A device like this can heat or cool, and can be run in reverse (the Seebeck effect) to generate power from waste heat or the sun.
This could be as big or bigger than the LED revolution.
More at Phononic.