[Photo, from left to right: Mr Jamie Willoughby, RSO, Dr Ing. Marc Anthony Azzopardi from the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering, Hon. Owen Bonnici, Minister for Research, Innovation and the Co-Ordination of Post-COVID-19 Strategy, Mr Andre Micallef, Principal Investigator on the project, also from the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering]
A team of engineers from the University of Malta showcased their latest research developments during a visit at New Energy Ltd. by Minister for Research, Innovation and the Co-Ordination of Post-COVID-19 Strategy, Hon. Dr Owen Bonnici.
The R&I project named ICECAP, which stands for thermoelectrIc Cooler for elECtronic Applications, aims to develop a cooling system small enough to be integrated within electronic products such as cameras and telescopes, improving their performance.
Part of this cooling technology is based upon the well-known scientific phenomenon called the Peltier effect. Whilst this is not a new phenomenon, present applications are very inefficient and generate excessive waste heat, making them impractical. However, the team found an innovative way to achieve temperatures lower than -40 degree Celsius within a small form factor. “The inventions are currently being reviewed as part of the patent filing process, hence boosting our intellectual property portfolio”, said Andre Micallef, who is leading the project.
The technology was originally developed to cool image sensors and processors. However, once the pandemic started the research team realised the same technology can be used for medical purposes, such as vaccine transportation. This led to the parallel development of a battery powered vaccine transporter, as well as off the shelf modules for industrial use.
This partnership was struck between the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering at the University of Malta, as well as New Energy Ltd, a local company internationally known for producing power systems for the audio-visual industry. “This collaboration between public and private institutions is effective because academics can push the research domain whilst the industry carries forward the development and commercialisation aspect of the product” added Alec Fenech, who is New Energy’s mechanical engineer responsible for the thermal design of the product. The company also performs additional research and development for its battery products, keeping a leading edge over its competitors and establishing quality superiority difficult to find in other brands.
During the visit, which was done to commemorate worker’s day, the team revealed a future model of the covid-19 vaccine transporter, designed to be carried on foot by medical staff in remote locations. Having started just last September the project is still in the initial stages though. Researchers stated that the first prototypes are currently being manufactured, moving on to performance tests this Summer.
ICECAP‘s research was possible by securing close to €200,000 in funding. This covers a two-and-a-half-year period of development from the Malta Council for Science & Technology through FUSION: The R&I Technology Development Programme.