UIC Professor Wears Two Hats: Inventor and Entrepreneur
Alan Feinerman, professor of electrical engineering, has invented a new approach to insulation. Now he wants to market it through his start-up company.
More than half of the energy consumed in the U.S. is used to keep people or food warm or cool. UIC electrical engineering professor Alan Feinerman worked with UIC’s Office of Technology Management to start his own company, Thermal Conservation Technologies (TCT). The goal is to commercialize an extremely compact and efficient thermal insulation made of a stainless steel “envelope” with Kevlar filaments inside. It is equivalent to the R-value of eight inches of polyurethane foam in less than one half inch, achieved by sealing the Kevlar filaments (patents recently issued) inside a vacuum maintained by hermetically welded stainless-steel foil “skin” or “envelope” (patent pending). In design, manufacture, and application, it is a much “greener” insulation than polyurethane foam, the most common insulator, which takes up more space, is not recyclable, and produces ozone-depleting agents during manufacture.
“I am an applied physicist by training, and I’d been thinking for a while about the problem of supporting atmospheric pressure to create insulation without heat transfer. As often happens to me, I got a key insight of how to achieve it while doing something totally unrelated—picking up a prescription at Walgreens.” Office of Naval Research funding that Dr. Feinerman applied for got the research going and a subsequent Small Business Innovation Research grant through the National Science Foundation provided $1 million in equivalent funding to conduct more research. After some commercial interest was demonstrated, Dr. Feinerman took a six-month leave of absence from UIC to act as principle lead investigator for his start-up company, TCT. Ahead, the company faces the challenges of perfecting the stainless-steel envelope portion of the panel and demonstrating that the panels can be manufactured cost-effectively. Then, they will need to find a manufacturer and the capital to produce them. The time to market is, at a minimum, 2015, said Prateek Gupta, PhD, Thermal Conservation Technologies president.
Both Dr. Gupta and Dr. Feinerman agree that the commercialization journey they’re on is hugely challenging, but fun and exciting. “If we do this, we will have changed the world for the better—it will have a tremendous positive impact,” said Dr. Feinerman.