Air conditioning unit

Breakthrough: Energy-saving Air Conditioner Developed

A new water-based air-conditioning system which can cool air to as low as 18 degrees Celsius without the use of energy-intensive compressors and environmentally harmful chemical refrigerants was developed by a team of researchers from National University of Singapore (NUS)

This innovative technology might eventually replace the already existing air-cooling principle that is being used today. The system is suitable to use indoors and outdoors, and it is also portable, as well, as customized for all kinds of weather conditions.

The team, led by Associate Professor Ernest Chua from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NUS Faculty of Engineering, was able to create a novel air-conditioning system which is cost-effective to produce, and it is also more eco-friendly and sustainable.

In comparison to the current compressor-based air-conditioners used in our houses and commercial places, this system consumes less than 40% of electricity which involves a 40% reduction of carbon emission.

What is more, it replaces the chemical refrigerants like chlorofluorocarbon and hydrochlorofluorocarbon for a water-based cooling technology. Plus, It is both safe and environmental- friendly. Lastly, this novel system can generate potable drinking water while cooling the air.

According to Assoc Prof Chua “For buildings located in the tropics, more than 40 % of the building’s energy consumption is attributed to air-conditioning. We expect this rate to increase dramatically, adding an extra punch to global warming. First invented by Willis Carrier in 1902, vapor compression air-conditioning is the most widely used air-conditioning technology today. This approach is very energy-intensive and environmentally harmful. In contrast, our novel membrane and water-based cooling technology are very eco-friendly — it can provide cool and dry air without using a compressor and chemical refrigerants. This is a new starting point for the next generation of air-conditioners, and our technology has immense potential to disrupt how air-conditioning has traditionally been provided.”

Novel System Technology.

Nowadays, the air-conditioning system needs a huge amount of energy to remove moisture and to cool the dehumidified air. The NUS Engineering team has developed two systems that perform these two processes separately which can control each process and hence achieve greater energy efficiency.

How Does it Work?

The system uses an innovative membrane technology in order to remove moisture from the humid outdoor air. So then the dehumidified air is cooled via a dew-point cooling system that uses water as the cooling medium instead of harmful chemical refrigerants.

On the other hand, the novel system does not release hot air to the environment, a cool air stream, that is comparatively less humid than environmental humidity, is discharged. As a consequence, around 12 to 15 liters of potable drinking water are harvested after operating the air-conditioning system for a day.

Professor Chua stated that their “cooling technology could be easily tailored for all types of weather conditions, from the humid climate in the tropics to arid climate in the deserts. While it can be used for indoor living and commercial spaces, it can also be easily scaled up to provide air-conditioning for clusters of buildings in an energy-efficient manner. This novel technology is also highly suitable for confined spaces such as bomb shelters or bunkers, where removing moisture from the air is critical for human comfort, as well as for sustainable operation of delicate equipment in areas such as field hospitals, armoured personnel carriers, and operation decks of navy ships as well as aircrafts.”

Currently, the team is trying to refine the design of the air-conditioning system to make it more user-friendly by incorporating smart features such as pre-programmed thermal settings based on human occupancy and real-time tracking of its energy efficiency. They hope to work with industry partners to commercialize the technology in the future.

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