Heat waves continue to occur this summer in Spain, although it is a phenomenon that transcends our borders and affects much of the planet. The climatic emergency is becoming more and more evident, as well as the need for solutions such as the Chinese system that cools an entire neighborhood and avoids turning on thousands of air conditioners or urban proposals such as the Wind Tunnel, the vegetal spiral that will lower the temperature by 4 degrees Madrid. Those responsible for Blue Frontier, an American start-up that is behind a desiccant-enhanced evaporative air conditioner capable of drastically reducing energy consumption and CO2 emission.
[Olvida el aire acondicionado: esta es la tecnología que mantiene tu coche fresco a 40º al sol]
The promising patents and prototypes of this small company have caught the attention of Bill Gates. Through his investment fund focused on sustainable energy, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Microsoft founder has invested $20 million in Blue Frontier and his technology designed to make air conditioning more efficient using fewer harmful by-products For the enviroment.
For now, his revolutionary devices are just prototypes being tested at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But the initial results are very promising, as have managed to reduce up to 90% of energy and similar figures with the emission of greenhouse gases. The first designs are geared towards commercial buildings and installation will begin before the end of the year. For the first commercial product for residential buildings, it will be necessary to have a little more patience, since its forecasts include the years 2026 and 2027.
Ideal for the Mediterranean
Beyond taking off our ties, the increased use of air conditioning is one of the great consequences of the constant rise in temperatures around the world. According to Eurostat data, the need to cool buildings in Spain is almost twice as high as in 1979. And it is no longer simple comfort, but pure survival: it is the most effective way to prevent the death of more people caused by high temperatures.
Another report, written by a team of researchers from the Harvard China Project, concludes that at least 70% of the population of several countries will need air conditioning in 2050 if the current rate of emissions continues to increase, an even higher figure in countries like India and Indonesia. Extreme heat waves and increased demand for cooling correspond to episodes of blackouts given large peaks in consumption, which are pushing current power grids to the limit of their capacity.
The problem is that the more air conditioning is used, the more emissions accelerate. A whiting that bites its own tail for which Blue Frontier technicians claim to have found the best possible solution. Its origin is, to say the least, curious: the technology was discovered while trying to eliminate anthraxbacteria that can be used for bioterrorism, from the air.
His great contribution is based on indirect evaporation and in the use of liquid desiccants, chemicals with a lower vapor pressure level than water. The moment the moist air passes through that desiccant, the water is drawn out and that dehumidifies the air.
[Xiaomi lanza un aire acondicionado que enfría una habitación en cuestión de segundos]
“Liquid desiccants are excellent antiseptics and bactericides, so contact of anthrax with liquid desiccant would kill it,” Daniel Betts, CEO of Blue Frontier, told CNBC. “This initial research led to innovations and discoveries that form the foundation of Blue Frontier’s HVAC technology. In fact, one of the benefits would be a overall improvement of indoor air quality and a healthier environment.
Its effectiveness has been tested in different climates, with an average saving of 60%. However it is especially noticeable in arid and Mediterranean climates, because the hotter and drier the outside air, the better it works. That allows you to use up to 90% less energy compared to a traditional air conditioner in episodes of extreme heat.
Also, your system uses between a third and a fifth of the amount of refrigerants you would need to feed a conventional system, in addition to being less polluting substances. “The combined effect is an 85% to 87% reduction in our system’s contribution to global warming,” Betts said.
In fact, the scant refrigerant used in the Blue Frontier system is not used for cooling, but is needed to run the heat pump that regulates the salt concentration of the desiccant. This is stored inside the air conditioning machine in a small tank, which allows the refrigeration capacity to be stored for when it is most needed, providing between 4 and 7 hours of cooling with almost zero energy consumption. This means avoiding large peaks in demand, which implies less demand for electricity networks, which are increasingly dependent on renewables, which are intermittent energy sources.
“Summer spikes in demand are not just a problem because they cause blackouts, increase the cost of electricity and produce more greenhouse gas emissions,” says Betts. It is something that also contributes to forest fires like the ones we are experiencing this summer. “When everyone consumes electricity for air conditioning during the hottest days of the year, the large amount of electricity flowing through transmission and distribution lines heats them up and causes them to sag. This increases the likelihood that they will come into contact with vegetation, causing wildfires.”
In this way, Blue Frontier’s air conditioning and energy storage technology can be a decisive first step to drastically curb emissions and reduce energy consumption. An example to follow to ensure a better (and fresher) future.