The Product of the Year, according to the New Hampshire Tech Alliance, is SmartStack, an active system for sensing lab exhaust, from a company based in Manchester, New Hampshire, called Measured Air Performance.
Steve Graves, CEO of Measured Air Performance, estimates the market for SmartStack is about $500 million in the United States, and $1 billion globally.
Graves says what he and the MAP team have done, and in particular Founder and Chief Technical Officer Eric Desrochers, is find a new way to save energy in lab buildings that was largely overlooked, despite the fact that people have been looking for ways to save energy in lab buildings literally for decades.
The SmartStack story begins with the fact that labs run massive air exhaust systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on the theory that nasty stuff could get into the air any time, and must be expelled into the atmosphere where it will disperse without doing any harm.
Eric Desrochers calls this protocol a “sacred cow” among the pharmaceutical companies, universities and hospitals that run most labs in the country.
“Don’t forget these are critical environments,” Desrochers said. “In lab research facilities the quality of the environment is paramount.”
In the 1970s, with an energy crisis raging, labs desperate to save power turned down ventilation rates, according to Desrochers, and people got sick. In the 1980s, engineers turned ventilation rates way up in reaction and the pendulum swung dramatically in the other direction, with the expected increase in energy usage.
In the 1990s, with better intellegence about what was going on with the lab air, engineers began to vary ventilation rates, but nothing to the extent that Measured Air Performance has achieved with SmartStack.
Desrochers said he was involved in starting up another company in 2000 that installed monitoring systems for labs.
“What we found by monitoring air quality levels is they’re actually clean most of the time, even though a lot of experimentation work goes on,” Desrochers explained. “It’s really the minority of the time where labs need to perform at high ventilation levels. Perhaps 90 to 95 percent of the time, labs are clean.”
So what SmartStack does is link an active air quality sensing system in the lab to the controls for the exhaust fans, turning them on full blast only when necessary.
Another innovation of SmartStack is to protect the sensors that are vital to the efficacy of the system.
“Historically, sensing has been ineffective,” Desrochers said. “The reason for that is because sensor technology gets fouled, and sensors drift. What we’ve done with SmartStack is we’ve incorporated what I call ‘sensor protective mode’ into the product.”
The way it works is simple. As long as the air is clean, SmartStack continues to monitor it, but as soon as contaminants are detected, the sensor is isolated and protected, and the fan system turns up to high.
SmartStack can be retrofitted, which Desrochers said “lends itself very nicely” to two-thirds of the projects the company is looking at today.
“There’s so much opportunity out there when you consider the ease with which you can install systems,” Desorchers said. “Many clients are looking at it. They might have 20 buildings on campus not operating efficiently. It’s a slam dunk for them.”
Steve Graves said his company will install its first SmartStack, outside of a prototype installation at the University of New Hampshire, in the Center for Life Science building in Boston, which leases to a number of pharmaceutical companies.
Graves said the system will be up and running in December, not long after his upcoming meeting with Massachusetts General Hospital to discuss their interest in SmartStack technology.
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