John Barrie (whose name some of you may recognize from the byline on a number of EcoGeek articles) is the winner, along with Dr. Norbert Muller of Michigan State University, of the Boston Innovation Prize for a design for "a radically energy-efficient method of cooling and dehumidifying residential and small commercial spaces." The prize includes a $30,000 award.
Air conditioning may not be the most important thing on your mind right now if you are enjoying the frigid January temperatures. But, because air conditioning makes up a sizable percentage of the electricity used in the U.S. (up to 30% in some places), there are important energy benefits to a more efficient air conditioning system. But, in addition to the energy benefits this system offers, it has the added benefit of using water vapor as a refrigerant.
Barrie has described their winning entry:
Our winning submission is an air conditioner that uses water vapor as the refrigerant. When water vapor is used this way it is referred to as R-718. Water vapor can be up to 30% more efficient than traditional refrigerants, but engineering the compressor is difficult and expensive. In Europe where there are high energy costs, water vapor is used as a refrigerant in large projects. The economics of making a smaller scale R-718 compressor have, in the past, proven to be prohibitive. Critical components are commonly made out of titanium. The key to our winning submission is an economical and very efficient compressor invented by Dr. Müller. He invented a small and lightweight turbo compressor with an integral motor woven out of high-strength fibers.
Concern about ozone depletion and greenhouse effects of refrigerants that were released into the atmosphere were the big environmental concerns in the last couple decades. The Montreal Protocol helped to phase out the use of many of the most damaging fluorocarbon compounds which are most often used as refrigerants. Current refrigerants are less damaging to the atmosphere and to the environment, but still have some negative effects. Cooling systems that use water vapor as a refrigerant would completely eliminate environmental effects from the refrigerant getting into the atmosphere while making AC units as much as 30% more efficient.
Reducing energy usage and eliminating the use of harmful chemicals at the same time is innovation of the height of EcoGeekery, our hats are off to John.
written by John Barrie, January 23, 2009
written by Tom Simpson, January 28, 2009
written by Edward Smith, February 08, 2009
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