ECM Technologies' simple and effective HVAC energy conservation measures are designed to help reduce energy consumption. The company has treated thousands of square feet of cooled facilities across the Sunbelt with ThermaClear to help building operators reduce energy use, lower electrical costs, reduce carbon emissions, and improve overall cost of ownership of critical HVAC equipment.

In our latest installment of the Blueprint Q&A, Michael Daly, chief technology officer, ECM Technologies, introduces readers to ThermaClear, examines the concept of oil fouling, explains how he’s found the HVACR industry’s fountain of youth, and much more. 

Engineered Systems: Mike, thanks for taking some time to chat with us today. Please take a moment and introduce yourself and ECM technologies to our audience.

Daly: I'm the chief technology officer with ECM technologies, which is a relatively new business. I have 30-plus years of experience in engineering, am a mechanical engineer with a P.E. certification, and gained my business training at Harvard.

My focus has always been on product development, bringing new technologies to market. I’ve been involved with everything from life-saving products, like airbags for cars to body armor, vehicle armor, medical devices, and, for the past 10-plus years, innovations in the sustainability world. ECM Technologies is a relatively new company. The majority our work is occurring in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. Our plan is to roll out nationally, principally in the Sunbelt region, focused on the HVAC/energy use sector.


Engineered Systems: What does the acronym ECM stand for?

Daly: Energy Conservation Measure Technologies. Even though we only have one product right now, the name is intentionally plural, because we plan on releasing numerous products.


Engineered Systems: For those of us in the engineering industry, it should come as no surprise that HVAC systems become less efficient over time. I know your company has done a great deal of research on this topic. Can you enlighten us on some of the information you've discovered?

Daly: You’re correct, HVAC systems experience a degradation of performance over time. For the most part, building occupants only care if they’re comfortable; they don’t care if the HVAC system is operating optimally. Very few of the causes for this degradation have been thoroughly researched. One are we focused on is called oil fouling, which is a slow degradation that, in essence, is robbing HVAC systems of their performance by impeding the heat transfer of those systems. All systems, other than those using oil-less, magnetic-bearing compressors, experience this. Oil fouling was first identified around 14 years ago. Design engineers have spent a lot of time optimizing systems to mitigate the effects of oil fouling, but it's really inherent in all designs.


Engineered Systems: How and why does oil fouling occur? Is it sort of like an automobile, where the oil sort of gums up and needs to be changed?

Daly: Okay, so oil in an automotive engine is an excellent example. Oil breaks down from excessive heat or contamination. And, in cars, we have the luxury of routine maintenance, allowing drivers to change their oil regularly. However, most HVAC compressors are hermetically sealed, thus you can’t change the oil. And, nobody would ever want to you to as you’d have to purge the refrigerant from the system, cut the compressor out, drain the oil out of it, and replace it. We just don't want to do that. So, the oil typically stays within the system for its entire lifecycle. Within that compressor, oil serves two purposes. First, it’s mean to reduce friction on the moving mechanical parts. Secondly, it acts as a seal for the gap between those mechanical parts. Just like in our automobile, there are oil rings in the compressor, on the pistons, and it's trying to keep enough oil to lubricate the cylinder. But, inevitably, it's there trying to keep it in the sump and crankcase. The reality is that, occasionally, some of the oil escapes.


Engineered Systems: OK, so why is oil fouling so problematic. If the same oil stays in the system for the equipment’s entire life, what happens to an aging system?

Daly: with minor seepage or oi that migrates out of the sump, compressor, or refrigerant loop, which, inevitably, it does, we slowly get a coating of oil on the heat exchanger coils. Remember, oil acts as a thermal barrier. So, this escaping oil is reducing the effectiveness of the heat transfer from the refrigerant to that coil. Most systems are designed such that the higher velocity of the high-pressure side is pulling and drawing that oil back around to get it back to the compressor. Larger systems, such as chillers, have oil accumulators. The intent is to get the oil back. But, inevitably, a thin film isn’t disastrous. The film, in itself, is not going to kill the equipment. But, it's like putting a weight on the system. That compressor has to work harder to deliver the number of Btu to meet the thermostat’s set point. In delivering those Btu, you're drawing more higher amperage to run that compressor, it's running hotter, and that equipment is more prone to failures. Typically, nothing is done We typically don't do anything about it. But, we’ve discovered a solution.


Engineered Systems: Tell us a little bit more about this solution.

Daly: ThermalClear is addressing two things. First, it's addressing the frictional losses that occurs as an oil breaks down in the in the compressor, which causes that compressor to work harder. With less viscous oil, we're helping that system by putting in a solution designed to serve as a lubricant in the system that attaches to the metal. It's really just a very thin coating, that's again helping the lubricity of the system. More importantly, the active ingredient in our product is a long chain liquid-nano material that is attracted to the heat exchanger coil surface. It’s designed to displace oil that is wedded to the surface of that metal. It has a higher attraction force than the wedding attraction of the oil to that metal. So, it displaces the oil, and the oil gets put back into circulation with the refrigerant, which then can take it back to the compressor.

We don't eliminate the oil from the refrigerant; we just displace it from the heat exchanger coil, enabling the refrigerant to work at its optimum performance. So, the active ingredient is designed to improve the system’s lubrication and heat transfer process. To get it into the system, we mix it with a synthetic oil, polyolester, which is compatible with all types of refrigerant oil and refrigerant types. We inject it into the low-pressure port, it’s drawn into the system that gets circulated through the compressor and the high-pressure side, and all the way back around to the low-pressure side. All the chemical components of our proprietary product has been compatibility tested.


Engineered Systems: Is there any specific HVAC equipment that ThermalCare works best with? Or is it applicable to all oil-based compressors?

Daly: It's applicable to all oil-base systems. However, performance gains are going to vary based on how much that equipment is being used? Equipment that's operates 24/7 or incorporates much longer run times, will experience the greatest performance improvement. When we translate what a payback may look like, that correlates to the customers’ utility rate plan, the operational use of that building, how heavy the equipment is working, etc.


Engineered Systems: Sounds like a great fit in, say, health care, schools, or municipalities that operate on a fixed budget.

Daly: Absolutely. We enjoy working with clients who knows their operational use and have capital asset plans for operations and maintenance.


Engineered Systems: You've implemented a few pilot programs out in Phoenix. Can you share a bt more about the lessons you've learned through these projects?

Daly: Absolutely. The city of Phoenix wanted to see what we could do on some of their DX split equipment, water-cooled chillers, and air-cooled chillers. So, they brought us in to do some work on the Phoenix Art Museum, which has three 350-ton water-cooled chillers. They allowed us to work on one, initially, to play it safe. We addressed the unit for about a half a year. We recorded the data in the cloud for every minute, including the extensive measurement and verification process of the voltage all amperage on all three legs of these chiller’s run time, the supply or return water temperatures of the condenser, the pressure deltas, and calculated what the flow rate would be. A third-party engineering firm took our raw data to verify that our computations were correct and appropriate. They then went through all the equations to verify our readings. They approved our findings.  It was a good process. And it was validated performance gains. They sent a letter to the city of Phoenix, recommending the city implement ThermaClear across all 12 million-plus square feet of conditioned space throughout the city. That same type of approach was used at a at the City of Phoenix’s facility service building on rooftop units and DX and split systems. And then also at Sky Harbor Airport, at terminal three, using a York 71-ton air-cooled chiller.

Our pilots are substantial in depth. They provide a sampling of different types of equipment in different operational uses. All of them confirm ThermaClear’s effectiveness.


Engineered Systems: If those who are reading this are interested in learning more about ECM, peeking at the data from your pilot projects, or perhaps pitching a novel idea to you, where should they turn?

Daly: They should start at our website, You can also look us up on LinkedIn or send an email to direct email to We’re excited about what we're finding and the receptivity we're getting throughout the industry.


Engineered Systems: Michael, thanks again for sharing your time and expertise with us and for introducing us to ECM technologies as well as ThermoClear. We look forward to tracking your company’s success from here on out.