A fixture of the HVAC world, the Chairman and CEO of XNRGY, the North America-based sustainable HVAC expert, talks about his career and his take on decarbonising the production process
After graduating as an engineer in the early 90s and studying for an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, Wais Jalali had to make a decision about which industry sector to go into. Lucky for many acolytes of the green revolution, he chose HVAC.
As founder, Chairman and CEO of Canada-based XNRGY Climate Systems, Jalali is focused on the design of climate solutions tech which dramatically reduces building energy demand and water consumption.
Speaking to Cleanroom Technology, the HVAC expert reveals the key conversation that led to him founding the company back in 2017. “I learned that there were going to be to over 10,000 data centres being built around the world,” Jalali says. “And the number one challenge for a data centre is cooling because the heat load is 100 to 150 times that of a common building.”
We want to make sure that our Amp draw is less than everybody else’s
Jalali’s expertise in HVAC solutions and the number of patents invented by company CTO Larry Hopkins isn’t an accident. Collecting a wide array of talented people was a priority upon formation of the company.
Larry Hopkins alone has been the inventor for dozens of patents in the industry, including prior groundbreaking technologies related to the fan array. XNRGY counts decades of experience among numerous members of senior management. “We probably have the best talent pool right now in this company, out of any company in our competition,” Jalali says.
Tackling sustainable climate solutions in the semiconductor, hyperscale datacenter, biopharma healthcare and battery manufacturing sectors, Jalali and his team have their work cut out for them.
We retrofit those systems and then we measure the amp draws again at the meters and then we adjudicate or verify that our technology really does what it does
“So our approach is not just selling the product,” he says. “Our approach is solving ESG initiatives, sustainability and decarbonisation.
That's our initiative.
So we impact a lot of things in a building. We're not just selling HVAC systems. We impact the entire steel of the building. We impact concrete. We impact egress. We impact controls and brains of the systems as well as materials, as well as installation.”
Another critical point for Jalali and his team is an ‘embodied carbon study’ on every building. Okay. This comes into play with an important segment for the company, which is retrofits.
"We can go in on retrofits of old dinosaur systems and probably save up to 30% energy efficiency. That's called a connected load. So basically, what we would do is we would go and put power meters on all these HVAC systems and measure how much amp draw they're generating currently. Then we retrofit those systems and then we measure the amp draws again at the meters and then we adjudicate or verify that our technology really does what it does.”
With cleanrooms and hyperscale data centres being such energy-demanding environments, Jalali’s big ambition is to reduce their environmental impact in a statistically significant way. “The company is focused on being impactful for the environment,” he says. “It is number one for us.”
He explains that with the amount of computing power that will be needed with the AI revolution, sustainable adjustments will become even more necessary. “You're going to see a completely drastic change in terms of the amount of energy that's required to stay with AI,” Jalali says. “That’s really the movement right now.”
Seeing these higher loads in the future, Jalali says they will “attack three things”.
These three things are; the power grid, water, and friction.
POWER: From an obvious standpoint, the energy source of power for data centres and cleanrooms makes a huge difference to their carbon impact. “Inflation Reduction Act, [which] the government came up with, has many incentives for heat pumps in the United States, and we're at the forefront of that, of trying to develop heat pumps right now, whether it’s air side or waterside,” Jalali says.
But it is not just the source that is important, it is the efficiency too.
“In cleanrooms we need 24/7 operation, and this means, you basically are running motors 24/7,” he says. Going on to explain the importance of motors in the system, the engineering expert says that this is why they focus on Amp draw to determine true efficiency. “We want to make sure that our Amp draw is less than everybody else’s.”
Discussing what is the most common overuse of amperage, Jalali says it is anything in the drawing that is misdesigned within the HVAC system or within the room, maybe the entire build. “The whole building design is not usually looked at very holistically because most building designs are designed at 100% load because a lot of people don't want to take the liability and risk but they should look at the sweet spot,” he explains. “The sweet spot usually is between 40% and 60%, or part-load.”
Jalali further explains that having their own control platform is fundamental to the way the company runs. “The brain of the system,” he says. “You have the products, then you have the brain and then you have analytics. So all that has to come together. But if somebody really wants to know how they can decarbonise their building, they have to go through these processes that basically ensure them to meet their net zero or sustainability or ESG initiatives.”
WATER: Seeing all their competitors using water for cooling in these scenarios, and knowing the environmental impact of billions of gallons of water per facility a year, Jalali knew they needed to do something different.
“So we thought about this way ahead of time and we're coming out with a technology or an IP. We can't talk a lot about it yet, but it does not use water, and it will cool with around 30% more efficiency.”
Keeping an eye on XNRGY over the next few years should be really interesting as the innovations potentially make big waves.
FRICTION: The third point of attack is friction. Which works hand in hand with power “So friction is basically moving air from point A to point B.”
“Basically what we're trying to do is we're trying to reduce transient failures in friction,” he explains. "So we don't want to have friction losses. When you have friction losses, the motor works harder and half of the world's energy is motors.”
Many losses can happen in this process, and this is why Jalali and his team are working on “many IPs to do with reducing friction and providing a more sustainable solution.”
It is likely that many buildings will never get refinanced in the future unless they have their ESG initiatives in place, which seems to be Jalali’s general take on the situation.
“If you read Larry Fink's letter to shareholders for BlackRock, it basically informs you that buildings will not get refinanced by banks unless they have their ESG initiatives in place. Times are changing. It's going to be a big change for a lot of people, but it eventually will be for the good of the whole world.”
Moving on from his ‘big three’, Jalali also mentions the obvious decarbonisation routes, which means smaller footprint units, recyclable materials and also longevity of the units to be replaced. “So most conventional commercial HVAC units are replaced every seven to eight years. And I would say ours will be 20 to 25 years, which would be significant.”
The conversation turns to XNRGY’s own sustainability efforts, which reveals a lot about how an HVAC company should be thinking about their impact.
A big part of the mindset is being responsible for every step of the journey to a facility. “The three biggest components in our boxes are coils, heat exchangers, fans and motors,” Jalali says. “We make sure all the materials that are used in those three components are recycled.”
This mindfulness has made waves. In fact, XNRGY has been picked to be part of The Climate Pledge. This is a commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement, a movement co-founded by Amazon.
Heavily involved in the semiconductor and hyperscale data centre sectors in the US, Jalali has been kept busy recently following the combined events in Taiwan and with the US’s Chips Act. “Cleanrooms are heavily incentivised to come back to the United States,” he says. “We will be one of the few companies in the US that really compete for [these] cleanrooms.”
Jalali describes this move as an insurance policy against more world issues, like the COVID-19 pandemic. What makes this domestic onshoring (as it is called) effort even more interesting is the type of innovation being needed. “Larry Hopkins and I have been involved with major semiconductor manufacturers for a long time, whether it’s in Israel or Ireland or Santa Clara or Portland. The whole of the chip industry is being reformed because they're testing chips at a very high temperature now, especially for servers and data centres as well. So the CPUs and data centres are getting tested at a very high temperature right now.”
Battery manufacturing is another high-tech sector that Jalali is keen to comment on. The low dew point controlled environment units that are required for this type of production are in greater and greater demand as things like electric vehicles take root in society.
“We are dealing with [these units] right now with some major car brands, where they require 1% relative humidity,” he says.
He explains that if you don't have 1% relative humidity in that type of facility, you create an explosion. It's a very stringent criteria, which means XNRGY have to weld with an ASDM N 510 nuclear grade welding on its discharge section of these units. “But we're already doing desiccant systems for NHL ice rinks,” Jalali says in a fascinating turn. “The low dew point for the ice, it’s all the same concept. You have to use a desiccant wheel.”
For these EV batteries, XNRGY is working on some major projects in the US. The scale of these mean that there a few manufacturers in the world that can do these. “We’re one of them,” Jalili says.
Jalali won’t stop at his ambitious North America plan. Europe is on his horizon and should anticipate Jalali’s team will be putting their best foot forward as a provider of a huge range from the grid, to plenums, from sprinklers to lighting, from HEPA filtration to cleanroom design.
“I mean, look, when you get to be my age, it's really about being impactful,” he says determinedly.