The Times of Israel header - Israeli startup harnessing sun’s rays for cooling tech touts new Volkswagen deal - Ness Ziona-based SolCold developed a nanotech-based surface material to cool structures such as buildings, cars, containers, airplanes in hot climates

Sun sets over a car

An Israeli startup that has been developing an eco-friendly cooling technology using the sun’s rays as a counter-intuitive but effective catalyst to bring down temperatures in structures such as buildings, cars, and containers, has sealed a new deal with German auto giant Volkswagen to test its product and jointly develop a concept vehicle.

Hebrew University Prof. Guy Ron

Hebrew University Prof. Guy Ron

SolCold, founded in 2016 by Yaron Shenhav, who serves as CEO, and nanoscience professor Guy Ron of the Hebrew University’s Racah Institute of Physics, announced the development on Tuesday with Volkswagen Group’s Innovation Hub in Tel Aviv, Konnect. The innovation hub was launched in 2018 to tap into the local startup and innovation scene.

Shenhav told The Times of Israel on Monday ahead of the announcement that SolCold has been working with the Konnect team since 2019 to further develop and test its technology — a cool-by-sunlight material — at the startup’s 300 square-meter, open-air demo site near its offices in Ness Ziona.

“We had two cars at the demo site where we were doing research. They wanted to test their own vehicle, and brought in representatives from Germany and a Volkswagen Polo and we did a demo that showed that our technology was able to bring down temperatures by 12-14 °C (53.6-57.2 °F) by coating the rooftop and dashboard,” compared to the control vehicle, Shenhav described.

He said the wheels are in motion for Volkwagen to use SolCold’s product as “flagship technology that will be embedded in new vehicles in the coming years.”

The benefits for the automotive market are two-fold, said Shenhav: having a naturally cooler car in hot climates could significantly reduce power (air-conditioning) consumption in vehicles, and thereby reduce fuel consumption; in electric or hybrid cars, this could lead to expanded range.

SolCold’s cool tech

Shenhav said SolCold has been focused exclusively on research and development over the past six years, initially aiming to develop a high-tech, light-filtering paint for commercial and residential buildings but expanding the potential applications given the range of possibilities.

A Volkswagen vehicle being outfitted with SolCold’s cooling tech on the rooftop at the company’s testing site in Ness Ziona.

A Volkswagen vehicle being outfitted with SolCold’s cooling tech on the rooftop at the company’s testing site in Ness Ziona.

The company is currently working with a white multi-layer film or coating that it hopes to further develop into additional colors and materials.

The film, developed with assistance from the Hebrew University and supported by the institution’s Yissum technology company, uses a process called “anti-Stokes fluorescence,” reversing the natural phenomenon of heat absorption (into roads, buildings, facilities, cars, for example). Instead, it transfers and converts the solar energy into subatomic particles so they lose their heat, creating a cooling effect.

Israeli startup SolCold developed an innovative material that can use the sun's rays to cool structures such as buildings, cars, and other applications to offset heat.

Israeli startup SolCold developed an innovative material that can use the sun’s rays to cool structures such as buildings, cars, and other applications to offset heat.

Shenhav, who conceived of the idea as an electronic engineering student while baking in a Tel Aviv apartment with a malfunctioning air-conditioner, said the process “forces the atoms to drop their energy levels and create a temperature drop. All you need is the sun and exposure to the open sky.”

SolCold’s film product is made up of four layers that facilitate this process, including a layer with active cooling particles, the company says.

SolCold’s cooling layers.

SolCold’s cooling layers.

SolCold says its tech can be used not only for buildings but also cars, tanks and other military applications, freight trucks, containers, airplanes, hangars, outdoor electronics, and even textiles such as tents, jackets, and clothing to protect them from the sun and prolong the lifetime of products.

Shenhav said SolCold has been piloting the tech with a number of companies in Israel including ICL Group, a multinational manufacturer of fertilizers, metals, and chemical products, where the startup demonstrated the cooling tech on a mineral facility, and the local operations of Belgian drink giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, or AB InBev, where the demo consisted of applying the film to a truck carrying beer products.

SolCold team members apply the company's cool-by-sunlight film onto the rooftop of a vehicle at the startup's testing site in Ness Ziona.

SolCold team members apply the company’s cool-by-sunlight film onto the rooftop of a vehicle at the startup’s testing site in Ness Ziona.

He added that SolCold also has running pilot schemes in Germany, Japan, and Singapore.

Shenhav said the company is currently in the stages of developing the cooling paint it initially envisioned for use in residential and commercial buildings and hopes to have completed development by 2024.

“Cost is still an issue, it’s still very expensive at about $80-$120 per square meter” of film, he explained, as the company works to bring costs down to make the tech more accessible and affordable.

The environmental benefits

The residential market will be of particular focus for SolCold in the coming months, said Shenhav, given the added environmental aspects.

Having a building coated with SolCold’s product won’t just naturally cool it, saving on energy costs and reducing strain on electricity grids, “but once it is on a massive scale in cities, like Tel Aviv, the impact on the environment could be immense. We’re talking about a massive reduction of Co2 [carbon dioxide] emissions [the primary driver of global climate change], from cars and power plants and so on.”

SolCold founder and CEO Yaron Shenhav.

SolCold founder and CEO Yaron Shenhav.

An additional dimension, specifically in cities, he said, is hopefully reducing a phenomenon known as “urban heat island” where buildings, pavements, cars, roads, businesses, and dense human activity generate higher temperatures in the urban area.

“Everything absorbs sunlight and heats up the cities from within. So this is an additional advantage I am very much fond of,” said Shenhav.

Israeli startup SolCold developed a cooling-by-sunlight product that can be used for buildings, cars, and other applications to offset heat.

Israeli startup SolCold developed a cooling-by-sunlight product that can be used for buildings, cars, and other applications to offset heat.

But the company does avoid defining itself as a climate tech or cleantech operation. “We really look for the advantage for the end customer.. not only as a cleantech [company]. We do consider [ourselves in the realm of] sustainability, clean energy, energy-saving, and also new materials because we are really a deep tech company,” said Shenhav, in reference to an industry that provides tech solutions based on considerable scientific or engineering development.

SolCold has so far raised over $5 million with strategic investors, and is currently in the midst of raising an eight-figure sum for its Series B round, said Shenhav.

The company currently employs 10 people, all scientists or engineers in research and development “because we need to maintain smart R&D to stay ahead,” he added.

The additional funds will help SolCold develop the company’s business side and establish a global presence, said Shenhav.

SolCold team members working at the startup's testing site in Ness Ziona.

SolCold team members working at the startup’s testing site in Ness Ziona.