i2Cool has been selected as one of the participating start-ups in Chinachem Group’s accelerator, where they are putting their solar reflectance coating system to the test in a real building. Marketed as iPaint, i2Cool’s nano-material technology can block incoming irradiance from the sun while simultaneously creating a cooling effect by emitting thermal radiation out to the cold universe. Sub-ambient cooling can be achieved even under direct sunlight.
According to Martin Zhu, one of the company founders, the coating system is made with fluoropolymer materials, providing a highly protective coating that maintains its gloss and integrity particularly well. In terms of applications, it can be applied to metallic facades, steel or concrete structures. It also makes for a more resilient coating with less abrasion, contributing to less investment in maintenance.
Zhu is currently a PhD student in his final year at the City University of Hong Kong. “Our lab environment simulates Hong Kong and the region’s typical and extreme weather conditions, such as intensive UV, typhoons, humid weather, salty air in coastal environments, and even acid rain. By applying our passive radiative cooling paint onto a building rooftop, the rooftop’s temperature can be reduced by 15 degrees Celsius under direct sunlight when compared with the rooftop without this coating, saving about 10% of cooling energy of traditional air-conditioning systems in buildings,” he explains.
Energy solutions like i2Cool’s have potentially strong demand from developers and property owners seeking to achieve BEAM or LEED certifications, especially Platinum, which rewards innovation in design with extra points.
Start-ups often face risk and unforeseeable uncertainty when it comes to implementation, leading to failures if not appropriately addressed early. Chinachem Group and HKSTP’s accelerator provides a safe testing ground that enables ventures to identify the problems that need solving and use creativity to solve them.
“Since Central Market is a historic building, we were told that any work to be carried out had to be non-intrusive and reversible. So instead of using paint, the owner agreed to use peel and stick wallpaper that can be easily applied and just as quickly removed if needed,” says Zhu.
As well as Central Market, i2Cool is also testing out its cooling paint in a government building and a container office on a construction site of another property developer. These field tests are a critical stage for a start-up to prove that the innovation stands the test of the production environment’s complexity before commercialisation.
The field test results collected so far have validated i2Cool’s lab test results, suggesting that the solution is cost-effective, considering upfront and maintenance costs and economic benefits. Zhu also notes that the fluoropolymer materials now being used are significantly cheaper than the metallic nanoparticles used previously. That allows the payback period to be as short as three years for a typical three-storey building, given an average of 10% reduction in energy costs per year.
After some five years, the owner will only have to put on a new layer of paint to renew the cooling effect. And there’s more room for cost reduction when the first generation of product enters mass production as i2Cool is in talks with potential OEM partners to set up production lines in the Greater Bay Area in 2022.
i2Cool is currently developing second-and third-generation products. It seeks to expand the formats, such as wallpaper and tile options, colours and patterns to cater to different aesthetic designs and adapt to other building conditions without compromising the cooling effect. “We are also working on a technology that allows the paint colour to turn darker in winter to help keep the inside warm.”
The expansion in product variety and adaptability results from valuable feedback received from the start-up pitch contests and mentorships the i2Cool team have joined in the past.
In the future, i2Cool will be more proactive in marketing by participating in contests and joining local and overseas expos. In addition to the real estate sector, the company also targets other verticals, such as automobiles, that find passive cooling means to reduce demand for air conditioning.
To get the company ready for scale-up, the i2Cool team have joined HKSTP’s IDEATION programme, which offers eligible start-ups a package of seed funding, office space, mentorship and advice on the financial and legal aspects of running a business.
“We look forward to working with corporate partners like Chinachem Group and venture capital firms, ideally those who have portfolio companies that we can relate to.”