Less Pollutant Air Conditioners Could Help with Climate Change

With this summer’s heatwave people all over the world are turning up their air conditioning. In fact, The International Energy Agency predicts that the number of air conditioning units will almost triple by 2050, with most of the growth coming from developing countries with hot climates.

Ironically, people are turning up the AC due to a heat wave brought on by climate change but using AC is also bad for the planet. Air conditioners use chemicals known as refrigerants, which are potent greenhouse gases that can be several hundred times as damaging as carbon dioxide. These units also use up a lot of electricity—and make up about 10 percent of all energy consumed worldwide. Plus, that number is rising.

As global warming gains momentum, demand for atmosphere-damaging air conditioners will also rise, which could result in a potentially catastrophic cycle. However, inventors on opposite sides of the planet are looking for less-damaging ways to keep us cool.

For example, Professor Ernest Chua of the National University of Singapore is studying how to keep us cool without doing so much damage to Earth. Traditional technology is over 100 years old, he noted, but we still have not made breakthroughs in evolving air conditioning that is more environmentally friendly.

Thus, Chua’s solution is an air-cooling device that runs exclusively on water. Hot air is sucked into a machine in which a special membrane eliminates moisture. Then the dried air is blown over a layer of water, cooling it down much like a breeze cools our sweaty skin.

Not only will Chua’s unit not use refrigerants but it will be 30 percent more efficient than existing technology, a significant benefit to residents of his home country, who spend, on average, 40 percent of their utility bills on air conditioning.

In the U.S., a startup known as SkyCool Systems is taking a more cosmic approach. Although all objects give off heat in the form of infrared radiation, much of that is reflected back down by the atmosphere. So at certain wavelengths that radiation can escape to space. By coating objects with a special material, Burlingame, Calif.-based SkyCool has determined a way to facilitate this escape to coolness.

The plan is to put special panels on the roof of a building and run water pipes beneath them, as explained by co-founder Aaswath Raman. The water cools and is then circulated throughout a building. The SkyCool team estimates that integrating their technology into an existing AC system could cut electricity use by 20 percent, while a building that integrates it from the ground up could save up to 70 percent.

This evolution toward more efficient, less damaging air conditioning units is a key step towards reducing the effects of climate change that could have a serious impact on our planet.

When preparing news, materials from the following publications were used:





Image Credit: Suti Stock Photo / Shutterstock


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