Energy Efficient Air Conditioning

Published Dec-14-09

An energy-efficient room air conditioning system that uses water vapor as the refrigerant.

John Barrie and Dr Norbert Muller, United States

The Story:

Energy Efficient Air Conditioning It gets hot in the city, and though air conditioning will cool you down and chill you out, the technology uses a lot of energy. An open innovation competition was created by two organizations in Boston to find a way of slashing this energy consumption.

The challenge was called the Boston Innovation Prize and was set by the Barr Foundation, a private foundation that aims to improve the quality of life of people in the Boston area, and the Cambridge Energy Alliance, an organization that aims to reduce the carbon footprint of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was submitted to the global open innovation marketplace via the InnoCentive website. The nature of the task in hand was this: “to radically improve efficiencies in space cooling and dehumidification” and to “identify breakthrough technologies and/or designs which will provide cooling and dehumidification with dramatically higher energy efficiency than current room or window air conditioning units, while maintaining affordability.”

Impressive Solution

As you can imagine this was not an easy task, but that didn’t put off the dozens of solvers who viewed this open innovation challenge. Eventually 38 submissions were received and a national panel of experts poured over them. There were many impressive solutions but the one that stood out head and shoulders above the rest of the pack was sent in by Norbert Muller, a Michigan State University Mechanical Engineering Professor, and John Barrie of John Barrie Associates Architects.

The judges were struck by the idea’s potential to drastically consume less energy and reduce peak demand compared to current air conditioning systems on the market. Muller and Barrie were awarded a cool $30,000 prize.

The key to their success was using water vapor as a refrigerant which can be up to 30% more efficient than conventional refrigerants. In Europe it’s used in large scale projects but scaling it down for private or small business use is cost prohibitive, especially as critical components are made out of titanium, which are expensive. And they did away with the titanium.

Big Innovation

The really big innovation was a new lightweight turbo compressor that is efficient and compact, and was designed by Muller.

For the water vapor solution to work there has to be a faster revolving compression system than is found in conventional appliances. To achieve this Muller created an integral motor from woven high-strength fibers. These are aligned with the stressing forces to provide strength and deliver high compression and energy efficiency.

The energy saving of using this unit could be tremendous as it does not require a lot of juice to run, and when you consider that many homes in the summer have their air con systems on fall blast for most of the time it could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint. Oh, and it's very quiet when operational. An added bonus!

It is hoped that the fruits of this open innovation contest will be available to all if the technology goes into production.

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