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MU professor patents improvements for mugs, swamp coolers

Bill ma works with his mug at his side.

ThermAvant’s 16-ounce traveling coffee mug keeps liquids at an optimal drinking temperature for up to eight hours and will be available for delivery by December. Photo by Jennifer Hollis.

Do you wish your coffee stayed at just the right temperature longer? Or perhaps you wish your dehumidifier or swamp cooler was more efficient. These problems may not seem closely related on the surface, but at the intersection of both, you’ll find a University of Missouri College of Engineering faculty entrepreneur with the solutions.

Hongbin (Bill) Ma, C.W. LaPierre Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and his company, ThermAvant Technologies, recently patented solutions to both of those temperature-related issues. ThermAvant’s 16-ounce traveling coffee mug keeps liquids at an optimal drinking temperature for up to eight hours and will be available for delivery by December, while dehumidifiers and swamp coolers using the company’s newly-patented thermoelectric cooling module/ejector cooling system hybrid, are expected to be available early next year.

The coffee mug looks like a typical metal travel mug, but it’s the specially designed material on the inside that makes the difference. The thermal material absorbs the initial heat of the coffee, cooling it to an optimal drinking temperature, then releases that heat back into the coffee as it begins to cool, extending the optimal temperature for much longer than a standard vacuum-sealed travel mug. It works the same way to keep cold beverages cold.

“For a regular Thermos, for maybe two hours, you can’t drink it because it’s too hot,” Ma said. “This one, you put it in, in two minutes it cools down.”

The mug uses phase-change material, which is capable of storing and releasing high amounts of energy, to make the process work. Ma and his company now have the ability to mass produce mugs with that material in a safe, scalable manner.

The hybrid thermoelectric-ejector cooling system, meanwhile, combines the best of both worlds in terms of quiet performance for use in the home while giving consumers the efficiency of typically louder dehumidifiers and swamp coolers.

“Commercially available thermoelectric dehumidifiers are very quiet, and if you read the buyer comments, the performance is very bad,” Ma said. “Only at a higher relative humidity can it produce proper moisture. Ours is much better. Ours combines both to make it unique.”

ThermAvant’s patented technology added an additional layer to the typical cooling module setup. Typically, the top of the module produces the cooling effect, while the bottom collects the heat. Ma and his team developed a way to use that heat as energy to power an additional cooling system.

“The ejector will produce additional cooling; combined with the cooling from the thermoelectric module, we can double the efficiency,” Ma explained.

For more information about ThermAvant’s services, visit www.thermavant.com.