Top 2 Promising Innovations in Air Conditioning to Tackle Climate Risks

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These Innovations in Air Conditioning are expected to Replace the Current AC Technology

Billions of people across the world are being exposed to dangerous heat conditions. Cooling is their desperate need but it has to be done without warming the planet.

According to an estimate, the world will see the installation of 3.3 billion room air-conditioners between now and 2050. Most of them being inefficient will place a huge burden on the electricity grid of many of the developing countries. The huge energy consumption when combined with the adverse impact of the refrigerants used in the current air conditioning units represents one of the largest end-use risks to our climate.

If the ongoing scenario, the room air conditioners could solely contribute to a 0.5˚C increase in global temperature by 2100. 

Image Credit: The Wall Street Journal

Hence there is a need for drastic transformation in the way residential places are being cooled currently. Only a transformative and viable innovation can make this happen while also improving people’s health, productivity, and well-being.

Affordable cooling is more of a global necessity now. It leads to increased productivity, accelerated economic development, and positive health outcomes.

Keeping all the above points in consideration, a Global Cooling Prize contest is being organized to address the climate threat associated with the growing demand for residential air conditioning. 

The following transformative innovations seem to have a very high potential to fight climate change due to the current air conditioning technology.

1. NexarCool

The technology has been developed by Kraton Corporation (a Chemical Company)in collaboration with Infosys Limited and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. It deploys a membrane dehumidification system based on Nexar™ polymer.

Technology

Instead of using refrigerant, this technology combines the process of electro-osmosis with water-based direct evaporative cooling.

In electro-osmosis, when a small voltage is applied across an electro-osmotic membrane, the water vapor starts to flow from a region of low-humidity (indoor air) to a region of high-humidity (outside air) thereby reducing the moisture level of the indoors and making the indoor air dry.  

Image Credit: purdue.edu

After the indoor air is dried, it is cooled via a direct evaporative cooling process by which the moving air loses its heat to  evaporate the water and gets cooled. 

Evaporative Cooling Process – Image Credit: Condair

This combined approach is expected to have substantially lower energy consumption as compared to present-day conventional air conditioners. With no use of refrigerant,  the technology is complete ‘Green’.

2. BaroCal

BaroCal Ltd. is a startup from a lab at the University of Cambridge. Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University is developing a solid-state cooling technology and is a potential solution to replace existing air conditioning technology.

Image Credit: BaroCal

Technology

The technology is based on the baro-caloric effect i.e. heating or cooling of materials under external pressure variation. Barocaloric cooling takes advantage of the properties of solid organic “plastic crystal” materials to provide cooling. When pressure is applied to these organic solid crystals, their molecular orientation undergoes a change resulting in a solid-state phase transition,  causing a change in entropy and thus leading to a temperature change in the system.

Continuously “applying and releasing pressure” on such material causes solid-to-solid phase changes in the crystals and produces a cooling effect.

Baro-Caloric Effect in action – Image Credit: SPring-8

Proprietary organic solid materials have been developed by the Department of Materials Science, University of Cambridge, in collaboration with other universities. The material exhibits a very large baro-caloric cooling effect when subjected to external pressures of up to 1000 bar which is close to a thousand times the atmospheric pressure.

Image Credit: Barocal

These plastic crystals are flexible, low-cost, non-toxic, and are widely available. 

To Wrap Up

The above technologies provide alternative cooling solutions that have the potential to replace existing environment-unfriendly air conditioning technology. The developers of these technologies are also among the finalists of the global cooling prize.

Also Read: Breakthrough in low cost metal based 3D printing


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