Aircuity, Focused on “Not Using Energy You Don’t Need,” Tracks and Streamlines Building Ventilation

7/29/10Follow @xconomy

Given that the air system at Xconomy’s offices seems noisy and erratic most days, I wasn’t that surprised to hear that most buildings are over-ventilated (a bit of information I picked up from Aircuity president and chief operating officer Rob Brierley).

But for businesses running their air systems on overload, this can be more than uncomfortable—it can be costly and harmful to the environment. That’s a problem that Newton, MA-based Aircuity is trying to fix with its ventilation control system, called OptiNet.

Aircuity’s system continuously monitors and samples air particles and sends them to a building’s data center via structured cables that keep the components of the air sampled intact. The data collected is designed to feed directly into systems, built by companies like Honeywell, that typically control ventilation in these large buildings. Based on how a sample matches up with the air quality settings the building system is programmed to meet, these systems can then more intelligently adjust their ventilation. It can also catch harmful levels of substances like carbon monoxide or organic compounds, helping facilities managers directly target the problems.

“We do with air packets what data networks do with data packets,” says Brierley, likening Aircuity’s system to how a data network packages different elements of data together to send them more efficiently to their designated targets. OptiNet tracks building air quality based on parameters like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide content, dew point, particle content, and total volatile organics composition. Originally Aircuity shipped its technology in stand-alone units for remote sampling and air monitoring, but has since shifted to permanently installing the systems in buildings to interact with ventilation controls.

Aircuity targets customers with buildings whose conditions are continually changing throughout the day due to shifts in occupancy. Those fall into five categories: commercial office buildings, research facilities, hospital and healthcare settings, colleges and universities, and public assembly, which covers facilities like government buildings, conference centers, arenas, and museums. The Aircuity system has been implemented at roughly 120 sites, Brierley says. That includes Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and New York City’s Bank of America Tower, which has nabbed LEED platinum certification, the highest LEED green building rating based on environmental performance and sustainability.

The data monitored in buildings with the Aircuity system are uploaded via an Internet connection to a knowledge center, which Aircuity also monitors remotely for all of its customers, Brierley says. The building systems automatically adjust ventilation based on this data, but Aircuity tracks the information as an additional watch-dogging measure, Brierley says.

Typically, most of these buildings pump too much air through their vents because the operators of building management systems build big cushions into their settings to ensure that the facilities are meeting air quality standards. And when a building is reported as feeling stuffy, most managers just override the control settings to blast additional air into the entire space, because they lack the information to pinpoint the source of the problem, Brierley adds. He says Aircuity’s system can bring accurate information to the building management systems throughout the day, so an area isn’t blindly ventilated.

“In some respects, we don’t look a great deal different than a security system or fire system that hangs off of their network,” he says. “That building management system is taking that input in, and increasing or decreasing ventilation.”

Aircuity has some history building management control, though. It traces its roots to 1998, when Honeywell acquired Phoenix Controls, a maker of laboratory airflow controls. Two years later, the managers of the business unit acquired the assets and technology from Honeywell and spun out as an independent company. Their backers include Source Squared and Venture Capital Fund of New England.

Aircuity’s monitoring technology falls into the slice of clean and green technology focused on “not using energy you don’t need to,” to use Brierley’s words. I’ve written about other companies that monitor energy use and consumption in order to eliminate inefficiencies, like Boston-based Digital Lumens, which combines LED lighting with networking technology that determines how to illuminate commercial-scale warehouses based on the functions of the building, and Gloucester, MA’s GroundedPower, which helps households track energy consumption.

“Energy efficiency, carbon footprint, or sustainability is the initial driver” that attracts customers to Aircuity’s technology, Brierley says. But he says information and analytics are the next push for the business. Aircuity is transitioning to provide more for customers interested in this intelligence gathered through the OptiNet system.

Brierley says the company is developing a suite of software products with dashboards that distill the data, and break down the information for building managers based on conditions that effect their operations. He says these diagnostics and analytics features will give facility owners more insight to the trends and components of their buildings’ airflows. “We’re also able to tell them things about their buildings that they care about.”

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