By Riley Kaminer
Yes, it’s the middle of July. The forecast is showing nothing but sun and highs of 88 through the weekend. But chances are that, as you read this article, you are sitting in a climate that’s considerably cooler than that. (And, if you’re in an office, perhaps uncomfortably cool.)
Air conditioning is a life saver for those of us in South Florida. But its environmental impact is not so cool. AC causes up to 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions – as well as blackouts, sky-high electricity bills, and massive fossil fuel consumption.
Boca-based Blue Frontier is developing a way to escape the heat while keeping the planet’s best interests in mind. Today, the startup announced its $20 million Series A fundraise led by Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures, 2150 Urban Tech Sustainability Fund and VoLo Earth Ventures. Modern Niagara, Blue Frontier’s commercialization partner, also participated in this round.
The startup reports that this funding will enable them to bring its product to market. The end goal? Reduce gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions by decarbonizing building cooling.
“We are delighted to receive the support of some of the highest-profile cleantech funds who share our vision of driving decarbonization both in the power grid and beyond – into the buildings where we live and work,” Blue Frontier CEO Daniel Betts said in a statement.
“Our partnership with these sustainable investors enables the immense global environmental impact of our technology – to bring affordable, efficient, sustainable air conditioning with low-cost energy storage to buildings around the world – and to reduce the cost to utilities of supplying carbon-free electricity for cooling,” Betts continued.
Climate change-induced extreme heat conditions have led consumers to crank up their thermostat more than ever recently, making AC systems the fastest-growing use of electricity in buildings. Meanwhile, AC technology has barely changed in more than a century.
Blue Frontier’s ACs can reduce electrical consumption by 50-90%. Their system recharges and stores electricity when it can be sourced from renewable sources like wind turbines – a key AC sustainability issue – or when it is at its lowest cost.
The startup has also developed a new model for replacing those bulky, expensive AC units that are found on top of buildings. They call it HVAC-as-a-Service. The idea is to eventually offer free AC units to commercial property owners and charge a maintenance cost that is lower than the previous cost of monthly electricity bills. This approach stands in stark contrast to how things are currently done, with contractors choosing the lowest cost system that is compliant, regardless of its environmental impact.
“Cooling is already a significant part of our global energy consumption and is expected to eventually surpass heating demand,” said Carmichael Roberts, founder and managing partner of Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “Blue Frontier’s innovation is important because it can provide cooling with higher efficiency but also improved flexibility – reducing overall load and better utilizing renewable energy. This team has also developed compelling pricing models that make it an easy economic decision to swap out traditional systems.”
Blue Frontier’s team is composed of a handful of experts in the energy space. Betts has a PhD in mechanical engineering and an MBA from the University of Florida; CTO Matt Tilghman has a PhD in thermodynamics and heat transfer from Stanford; and President Greg Tropsa and VP of Engineering Matt Graham both have deep operational experience in the energy space.
In April, the startup won a Pioneers award from BloombergNEF, a research organization covering decarbonization technologies. Late last year, Blue Frontier won a silver medal as part of the 2021 Most Fundable Companies List, awarded by Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business School.
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