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November 14. 2012 7:12PM

Portsmouth's Therma-Hexx wins Product of the Year


Portsmouth-based Therma-Hexx received the 2012 New Hampshire High Tech Council Product of the Year award Wednesday. From left: Robert Barmore, Susan Barmore, and John Gilbert. (Matthew Lomanno Photography)
BEDFORD - Robert Barmore, one of five finalists in the N.H. High Tech Council's Product of the Year competition, staked out some ambitious territory as he wrapped up his pitch for Therma-Hexx and its ground-breaking heating and cooling technology.

"We're going to change how the world builds, heats and cools ... anywhere there is heat coming from the sun," he told a crowd of about 250 council members gathered Tuesday night at the Southeastern Regional Education Service Center on Commerce Drive.

They must have been impressed because their votes, along with ballots cast earlier by a panel of judges, made Therma-Hexx the winner of the 2012 Product of the Year award.

The Portsmouth-based startup had some tough competition.

Airmar Technology of Milford made a good case for its ultrasonic weather station, no bigger than a can of soda, that survived bobbing around the ocean in the eye of Hurricane Sandy.

Dynamic Benchmarking of Windham showcased Web-based software, Stack-Up, that literally helps users see how they stack up against their peers in any industry or trade group.

Itaconix of Stratham handed out samples of an environmentally friendly water softening agent that its inventors believe will revolutionize the detergent industry.

Medtronic Advanced Energy in Portsmouth demonstrated an innovative cauterization device used to reduce blood loss during spinal surgery.

But the potential for Therma-Hexx to be a real game-changer for the construction industry seemed to make the difference with both the panel of judges and the audience, whose votes each counted for half the final score.

Barmore and his company have been on a roll since Therma-Hexx was first incorporated in the spring of 2011. It won second place in the High Tech Council's Tech-Out competition for venture capital last month, and was one of six New Hampshire companies chosen in 2011 for funding by the Green Launching Pad at the University of New Hampshire, an incubator for emerging alternative energy companies.

The idea for Therma-Hexx emerged when Barmore, an architectural designer, and his wife Susan, were building houses in Aspen, Colo.

"We found a need for heating and cooling of patios and rooftops, and there was no way of doing that that was energy efficient or friendly to the products that are used on those surfaces. So my wife and I set about finding a solution, and what we came up with was our first product, Therma-Paver - a very simple heat exchanger that's very high tech," Barmore told the group as he started his presentation.

Most people think of pavers as the companies that pave driveways. But in the construction industry, pavers are the large, stone slabs used on pool sides, patios and building rooftops. They get very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Therma-Paver harnesses solar energy to melt snow and ice in the winter and keep the surface cool in the summer.

Barmore's first customer was a ski resort in Montana that wanted to create an apres-ski rooftop bar and grille. "They needed a snow-melt system that would work on pedestal-mounted pavers on that roof," he said in an interview after the event. "We had to rush out material to make the time line on that project. That was our first big install, shipped this summer."

That contract accounted for most of the $60,000 in revenue in the company's first year, with projected revenue at $250,000 for the end of its second year in business, Barmore said.

While he was setting up his display at the POY competition, Barmore got a call from one of the contractors on the second tallest building in the world, the Lotte Super Tower, now under construction in Seoul, South Korea, and scheduled to open in 2014.

"It's an enormous project, and they want to use our Therma-Paver panels in all the horizontal outside surfaces, or at least they want to do some testing with it to make sure it will work there. That would be an enormous 'get' for us," Barmore said.

Experience with Therma-Paver led to the creation of Therma-Ceiling, which has the potential to completely change the way indoor heating and cooling systems operate, particularly in large buildings.

The High-Tech Council competition has a good track record of identifying ground-breaking technology with the potential to create jobs and contribute to economic growth in New Hampshire.

The first winner in 2007, NanoComp Technologies, uses nanotechnology to produce carbon fibers about one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. At the time, the company was just starting up with 500 square feet of space in Lebanon. Now a $10 million enterprise, it recently opened a 30,000-square-foot plant in Merrimack that employs 55 workers in medium-skilled manufacturing jobs.

The role of the University of New Hampshire in the innovations recognized at the event has been a consistent theme over the years, and it was acknowledged by several of the competitors in Tuesday's event, including Therma-Hexx.

Barmore credits the UNH Green Launching Pad for helping him get started.

"We've already got two university students working for us," he said, "and as our business grows, we're going to be pulling from that university atmosphere to help us right here in New Hampshire, where we intend to manufacture 100 percent of the product."

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Dave Solomon may be reached at dsolomon@unionleader.com.