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05/30/2001 - Zess Innovations Are Really Cool

Zess Technologies, Inc. may be the epitome of the kind of technology company the Terabyte Triangle hopes to attract. Although it is a Portland, OR based company, founder Jim Zess has moved his research and development operation to the SIRTI building at the Riverpoint Campus. The business office remains in Portland.

Zess Technologies works with heat exchangers--specifically high-efficiency ultra compact micro-channel heat exchangers. Applications for these heat exchangers include air-conditioning, refrigeration, computers, fuel cells, and micro-turbines. Collaborating with US National Laboratories, Zess received a patent for various applications of micro-channel heat exchangers (MCHX). Two years ago, Zess received a DARPA grant, administered by SIRTI, and moved his research and development activities to Spokane.

I moved here because the laboratory facilities are the best, says Zess. Ive also found the people at SIRTI to be very helpful, and the computer systems support valuable. He even lives in the condominiums next door. I love my non-commute, says Zess.

Spending an hour with Zess means getting a very good short course on heat exchangers. Heat exchangers allow heat to transfer between two substances which can be air, liquid, or gas refrigerant. Lungs are an example of a biological micro-channel heat exchanger, Zess points out, where the tiny sacs of the lungs pass heat from the body to the air we breathe. However air is the least efficient of the heat exchange media. Water is better, and two-phase refrigerants are the best. Water is sufficiently good for most of Zess current work.

The newest product, just reaching commercialization, is a heat exchanger for cooling the micro-chips that run computers. Computer chips put out a lot of heat for their size, explains Zess, and most personal computers deal with the heat by including a fan. Larger computers and server computers need something higher powered and more efficient. For that purpose, Zess has developed a micro-chip heat exchanger.

These heat exchangers each have a large numbers of tiny microchannels through which a clean water or other fluid runs. Through proper headering, the liquid follows a precise flow distribution through the arrays of microchannels maximizing heat transfer. The heat exchanger is exactly the right size to fit over one computer chip. Each chip requires its own individual heat exchanger. Target heat exchange is 50 watts per square centimeter at a very close temperature approach.

Zess also developed the manufacturing method for the heat exchanger. Demand could be as high as millions of units per year, so the manufacture has to be fast and accurate. Metal injection molding is used, and the units are manufactured in China, California, and South Africa. Thanks to the Internet and e-mail, quick response is possible to each part of the world. - Billie Moreland

Billie Moreland
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