Funding sets stage for CU smartphone spinoff to commercialize

BOULDER — Kelvin Thermal Technologies Inc., a smartphone-technology startup from two University of Colorado Boulder professors, raised $200,000 in private equity to match a $250,000 grant from the state of Colorado.

The company has developed a new method of cooling smartphones, Y.C. Lee, president and CEO, told BizWest. When phones overheat, it causes them to not operate well, and can actually be harmful to the user. Lee said that if an alternate-reality headset with a smartphone overheats, it can cause a small sunburn on the person’s face.

Most smartphones use aluminum casing to help dissipate the heat from the processing chip, Lee said. But because of the thickness of the aluminum, about 0.8 millimeters, many smartphone manufacturers are moving to glass, which is thinner but doesn’t dissipate heat as well.

Lee and his colleague Ronggui Yang have developed a technology that is both thin — 0.25 millimeters — and is more effective at keeping the new glass-based models of phones from overheating.

“We developed a vapor chamber,” Lee said. “Or as we’re calling it, a thermal ground plane. It has a heat transfer capability that is about 10 times better than aluminum at transferring heat effectively, but our solution is thinner.”

The thermal ground plane cools using a very small amount of water. When heat from the processing chip hits the water, the droplets evaporate and travel throughout the plane. The vapor cools across the entire smartphone and then condenses back to liquid, only to evaporate again the next time the phone starts to overheat.

Kelvin Thermal Technologies Inc. has secured funding to commercialize their ultra-thin method of cooling smartphones.

Lee said the system is very similar to cooling systems used in laptops, but the system used in laptops is shaped like a pipe rather than a flat plane.

“Because aluminum is being replaced, smartphones needed a solution to replace the aluminum system,” he said. “We think this is an excellent solution.”

Lee said that with the state grant for the Advanced Industries Accelerator, matching equity and some funding for research & development, Kelvin Thermal Technologies will be able to commercialize its thermal ground plane and sell it to smartphone manufacturers.

That would be good news not just for the company, but also for CU Boulder, Lee said. In addition to being able to use some of his work time to develop this technology and renting a lab from the university, Kelvin Thermal Technologies has an intellectual-property agreement with CU Boulder to share the success of the product.

“The timing is good,” Lee said. “With this additional investment and the award from the state of Colorado, we’re in a good position to commercialize.”



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