2022 Grants Challenge

Climate Solutions: Next Generation Heat Pumps

Idea by Venaera

Both ecologically and economically, heat pumps have been identified as a priority for the United States--the White House even issued an Executive Order last week to boost production. This technology will be key to sustainably living in Los Angeles through a warming climate. The industry has not been innovating at scale and our wider community is underserved. Venaera will leverage advanced manufacturing technologies, generative design, and novel materials to develop the next generation of sustainable and self-installable heat pumps for everyone.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Climate and Environment

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Pilot or new project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

When it comes to keeping ourselves comfortable indoors, we are locked in a vicious cycle: the more our climate changes, the more people want to crank up the AC, and the more these antiquated systems pollute, changing our environment even more. In Southern California: add the risk of wildfires with surges energy use associated with HVAC's significant and growing share of energy use. Experts agree heat pumps are a critical if often overlooked solution to this problem. Heat pumps significantly reduce energy needs (estimates tend to cite 15-20%) to do the same job, keeping us comfortable and protecting us from extreme temperatures. Existing companies have only made incremental improvements, and have not been leveraging emerging technologies, or pursuing sustainable development as aggressively as this problem demands. Among issues raised by sustainable building developers: cost, noise, toxicity, and improper installation can make existing heat pumps much less effective than promised.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

Bottom line up front: Venaera will use the grant funds for material purchases, technical services, intern/employee remuneration, and partnerships with local public institutions (e.g. universities, government). The funds will get us to our next major milestone: Small Business Innovation Research sponsorship. Venaera is a startup founded in the public interest to tackle the problems laid out in Question 6 (and beyond); we will spur our industry to move faster. We will do this by validating novel heat pump architectures with generative design software and thermal modeling to optimize the simplicity and sustainability of our heat pumps. Status: We have already conducted interviews with a wide cross section of industry experts and leaders. We are closing on design solutions and will be executing or reviewing production options by the time of this award. We are currently provisional patent pending. We will finish the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator's Founders Business Accelerator at the end of the Summer and move to their next program, which offers most of the business support we need (thermal models, generative design software, advanced manufacturing facility, business services at discounted rates). We have made a commitment to provide jobs to underserved communities as part of our partnership with LACI.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

Los Angeles County will have met its ambitious energy targets by addressing the efficiency of one of its most demanding uses of energy: heating and cooling (reference: EIA California report 2022; SBA asserts it is 40% of commercial building energy use). LA will have brought manufacturing jobs back to communities that most benefited from them, creating a new employment pipeline, adding another area of applied expertise to its economy. The County will be compliant with upcoming California net zero building efficiency mandates, and will help the rest of California do the same. The County will no longer need to dispose of toxic refrigerant or most other harmful chemicals from HVAC systems. Los Angeles County will be cleaner, greener, safer, and save money for households and businesses.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Our metrics for success are relatively straightforward and can be grouped as follows: People: we have hired a strong team; we met our goals for DE&I and community partnership Product: we have developed many working prototypes after validating designs; we know which one we want to scale; we may have letters of intent by this time Process: production is meeting or exceeding targets for sustainability (recycled materials, ecological impact, energy efficiency, etc.) Other metrics that are important but not necessarily on the critical path include SBIR sponsorship, partnerships agreements, and establishing business processes.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 200

Indirect Impact: 20,000