Newsbrief Archive

Electric Currents News - January 2016

Energy Dept. Awards Millions for Next Generation HVAC Research

HVAC systems are the largest users of energy in American commercial and residential buildings, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all energy consumed. Thus the HVAC market is a major opportunity for new energy-efficiency technologies.

There are also environmental concerns that can be addressed in this area. The hydrofluorocarbons (HCFs) in air conditioning refrigerant are toxic and have been linked to ozone depletion and global warming.

This past April, the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) awarded nearly $8 million in grants to support research and development of advanced HVAC systems. The long-term goal is develop a new generation of HVAC equipment that will save significant amounts of energy and phase down the use of harmful chemicals.

The grant is focusing on two major areas of research: advanced vapor compression technology and non-vapor compression technology. According to a news release by the Energy Department, these technologies are defined as follows:

“Advanced vapor compression systems will use highly efficient versions of the technologies that currently drive HVAC systems, but use refrigerants that will have a minimal effect on the environment. Non-vapor compression systems will employ new technologies that use refrigerants that don't affect the environment.”

Advanced Vapor Compression Systems

This project involves developing a new line of compressors:

  • Commercial centrifugal compressor: With a target market of small commercial rooftop systems (1.5 to 10 tons), this new type of high-efficiency compressor could provide 30 percent energy savings with less than a two-year payback.
  • Residential centrifugal compressor: Initially, this project will focus on residential HVAC systems (4 to 5 tons) but could be scaled up to include commercial systems up to 20 tons.


Non-Vapor Compression Systems

Unlike current most of today’s HVAC systems, the five projects described below will not use HCFs in refrigerants.

  • Membrane HVAC technology: By using a nanostructured membrane to manipulate water molecules, this system increases efficiency while also eliminating HCFs. The immediate goal is a rooftop prototype for field testing.
  • Compact thermoelastic cooling: The system works by stretching and relaxing metal rods, which creates heat but cools quickly when released. The operating principles are similar to those of a heat pump compressor.
  • Magnetocaloric air conditioner: This type of window air conditioner has the potential to save up to 25 percent of electricity costs by passing metal rods in and out of a magnetic field to produce cooling. It may also have the capability of scaling up for larger applications.
  • Electrocaloric heat pump: With a simplified design and a much smaller size, this heat pump will run more quietly while also saving energy and maintenance costs.
  • Electrochemical compression: In combination with an energy recovery module, this new technology can potentially replace a solid-state, heat-pump compressor. Electrochemical compression utilizes fuel cell technology that allows it to use to water as the refrigerant. Efficiency improvements of 30-56 percent are possible in a commercial system. The goal is a five-year payback.


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