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Cool idea gets warm response

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Alan Feinerman

Engineering professor Alan Feinerman explains his invention at the Clean Energy Challenge.

Alan Feinerman’s pitch for his award-winning thermos-like invention makes you want to listen closely.

It’s called a tensile “vacuum insulation panel,” or “VIP” for short, and he says it can reduce diesel fuel consumption by 75 percent for refrigerated trailers.

He estimates this would save 360 million gallons of diesel fuel each year in the United States — “nearly the volume of the Willis Tower.”

Feinerman, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, won this year’s $30,000 business concept award in the Clean Energy Challenge, a contest that pits area companies against each other for the best clean energy business ideas.

Final round competition winners were announced March 3.

While flat VIPs already exist, Feinerman says his design is better because of its inexpensive tensile supports, stainless steel puncture-resistant exterior and minimal heat loss at the edges.

National Science Foundation funding helped get the project started. The Clean Energy win means an additional $15,000 match from the NSF to help keep it going.

Feinerman is building his first prototype.

The Clean Energy prize will help pay for salaries and equipment for a company Feinerman and three UIC MBA students started, Thermal Conservation Technologies.

“The students did an incredible job pitching the concept at business plan competitions across the country,” he says. “I think they won an award in every competition.”

Two of the students took a buy-out after Feinerman received NSF funding. He continues to work with James Parks, who studied under Rod Shrader, associate professor of managerial studies, and doctoral graduate student Prateek Gupta.

Feinerman hopes to expand into refrigerator, oven and building insulation.

“Our VIP offers significant energy, cost and space savings — and is scalable,” he says.

The Clean Energy Challenge is part of the Clean Energy Trust, funded by a U.S. Department of Energy grant. It was founded in 2010 by Chicago investor Nicholas Pritzker and Michael Polsky, president and CEO of Chicago-based Invenergy, a wind power firm.


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