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 climate emergency is becoming increasingly evident, as is 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 vegetable spiral that will lower the temperature of Madrid by 4 degrees. The managers of Blue Frontier, an American start-up originally a desiccant-enhanced evaporative air conditioner capable of significantly reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
[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 caught the attention of Bill Gates. Through his sustainable energy-focused investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Microsoft founder has invested $20 million in Blue Frontier and its technology designed to make air conditioning more efficient using fewer harmful by-products For the environment.
So far, his groundbreaking devices are just prototypes being tested at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But the first results are very promising, because have succeeded in reducing up to 90% of energy and similar figures with the emission of greenhouse gases. Early 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 take a little more patience, since its forecasts include the years 2026 and 2027.
Ideal for the Mediterranean
Beyond the unraveling of our ties, the increased use of air conditioning is one of the great consequences of the constantly rising temperatures in the world. According to Eurostat data, the need to cool buildings in Spain is almost twice as high as in 1979. And it’s no longer just comfort, but pure survival: it’s 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 the increased demand for cooling correspond to episodes of power outages due to significant peaks in consumption, which push current electricity networks to the limit of their capacity.
The problem is that the more the air conditioning is used, the faster the emissions. A tail-biting whiting for which Blue Frontier technicians claim to have found the best possible solution. Its origin is curious to say the least: 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 vapor pressure level lower than that of water. As moist air passes through this desiccant, water is drawn in and this 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 a liquid desiccant would kill it,” Blue Frontier CEO Daniel Betts 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 in indoor air quality and a healthier environment.
Its efficiency has been tested in different climates, with an average saving of 60%. However, it is especially noticeable in arid and Mediterranean climates because the warmer and drier the outside air, the better it works. This allows you to use up to 90% less energy compared to a traditional air conditioner during episodes of high heat.
Additionally, 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 little refrigerant used in the Blue Frontier system is not used for cooling, but is needed to operate the heat pump which regulates the salt concentration of the desiccant. This is stored inside the air conditioning machine in a small reservoir, allowing the refrigeration capacity to be stored for when it is most needed, provided that between 4 and 7 hours of cooling with almost zero energy consumption. The aim is to avoid major consumption peaks, which implies less demand on the electricity networks, which are increasingly dependent on renewable energies, which are intermittent energy sources.
“Summer peaks in demand aren’t just a problem because they cause outages, increase the cost of electricity and produce more greenhouse gas emissions,” Betts said. It is something that also contributes to forest fires like the ones we are experiencing this summer. “When everyone is using 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 forest fires.”
In this way, Blue Frontier’s air conditioning and energy storage technology can be a decisive first step to drastically reduce emissions and reduce energy consumption. An example to follow to ensure a better (and fresher) future.