A system that uses solar energy to provide air conditioning across an entire campus

via University of the Sunshine Coast

A system that uses solar energy to provide air conditioning across an entire campus of the University of the Sunshine Coast has claimed a rather cool international award in Iceland.

USC and resource management company Veolia won the Out of the Box category of the Global District Energy Climate Awards on Friday for their ‘water battery’, featuring 6,000 solar panels and a thermal energy storage tank, that is cutting grid energy use at the Sunshine Coast campus by 40 percent.

USC won alongside projects from Spain, Lithuania, Sweden. The award was received in Iceland by USC Manager Infrastructure and Energy Dennis Frost, who was also named Practitioner of the Year at the Tertiary Education Facilities Management Association Clever Campus Awards.USC Chief Operating Officer Dr Scott Snyder said the award recognised the ingenuity of the project partners in developing the system, which is the first of its kind for an Australian university.

“USC has a plan to be completely carbon neutral by 2025, which is a challenge to any budget because it requires significant changes to the way energy is captured and consumed,” Dr Snyder said.

“So, we really did have to think out of the box, and by forming a partnership with Veolia, we were able to negotiate a 10-year plan that suited us both and delivered major energy savings to the University.

“The system was switched on in September and is now delivering 2.1 megawatts of power and we estimate that we will save more than $100 million in energy costs over the next 25 years.

“Another benefit is that we are able to take our students to visit the system and teach them about innovation and finding cleaner energy solutions for the future.”

Veolia Regional Energy Services Manager Andrew Darr said the win reflected nearly four years of hard work, and a successful ongoing partnership with USC.

 

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Carbon-neutral synthetic fuels from air conditioning systems – Crowd Oil

via Nature | KIT

Researchers Want to Use Air-conditioning and Ventilation Systems for Decentralized Production of Carbon-neutral Synthetic Fuels – Publication in Nature Communications

Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the University of Toronto have proposed a method enabling air conditioning and ventilation systems to produce synthetic fuels from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water from the ambient air. Compact plants are to separate CO2 from the ambient air directly in buildings and produce synthetic hydrocarbons which can then be used as renewable synthetic oil. The team now presents this “crowd oil” concept in Nature Communications. (DOI: 10,1038/s41467-019-09685-x).

To prevent the disastrous effects of global climate change, man-made greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to “zero” over the next three decades. This is clear from the current special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The necessary transformation poses a huge challenge to the global community: entire sectors such as power generation, mobility, or building management must be redesigned. In a future climate-friendly energy system, synthetic energy sources could represent an essential building block: “If we use renewable wind and solar power as well as carbon dioxide directly from the ambient air to produce fuels, large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided,” says Professor Roland Dittmeyer from the Institute for Micro Process Engineering (IMVT) at KIT.

Due to the low CO2 concentration in the ambient air – today, the proportion is 0.038 percent – large quantities of air have to be treated in large filter systems in order to produce significant quantities of synthetic energy sources. A research team led by Dittmeyer and Professor Geoffrey Ozin from the University of Toronto (UoT) in Canada now proposes to decentralize the production of synthetic energy sources in the future and to link them to existing ventilation and air conditioning systems in buildings. According to Professor Dittmeyer, the necessary technologies are essentially available, and the thermal and material integration of the individual process stages is expected to enable a high level of carbon utilization and a high energy efficiency.

“We want to use the synergies between ventilation and air-conditioning technology on the one hand and energy and heating technology on the other to reduce the costs and energy losses in synthesis. In addition, ‘crowd oil’ could mobilize many new actors for the energy transition. Private photovoltaic systems have shown how well this can work.” However, the conversion of CO2 would require large amounts of electrical power to produce hydrogen or synthesis gas. This electricity must be CO2-free, i.e. it must not come from fossil sources. “An accelerated expansion of renewable power generation, including through building-integrated photovoltaics, is therefore necessary,” says Dittmeyer.

In a joint publication in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists led by Roland Dittmeyer from KIT and Geoffrey Ozin from UoT use quantitative analyses of office buildings, supermarkets and energy-saving houses to demonstrate the CO2 saving potential of their vision of decentralized conversion plants coupled to building infrastructure. They reckon that a significant proportion of the fossil fuels used for mobility in Germany could be replaced by “crowd oil”. According to the team’s calculations, for example, the amount of CO2 that could potentially be captured in the ventilation systems of the approximately 25,000 supermarkets of Germany’s three largest food retailers alone would be sufficient to cover about 30 percent of Germany’s kerosene demand or about eight percent of its diesel demand. In addition, the energy sources produced could be used in the chemical industry as universal synthesis building blocks.

The team can rely on preliminary investigations of the individual process steps and process simulations, among others from the Kopernikus project P2X of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. On this basis, the scientists expect an energy efficiency – i.e. the proportion of electrical energy used that can be converted into chemical energy – of around 50 to 60 percent. In addition, they expect carbon efficiency – i.e. the proportion of spent carbon atoms found in the fuel produced – to range from around 90 to almost 100 percent. In order to confirm these simulation results, IMVT researchers and project partners are currently building up the fully integrated process at KIT, with a planned CO2 turnover of 1.25 kilograms per hour.

At the same time, however, the scientists have found that the proposed concept – even if it were introduced all over Germany – would not be able to fully meet today’s demand for crude oil products. Reducing the demand for liquid fuels, for example through new mobility concepts and the expansion of local public transport, remains a necessity. Although the components of the proposed technology, such as the plants for CO2 capture and the synthesis of energy sources, are already commercially available in some cases, the researchers believe that major research and development efforts and an adaptation of the legal and social framework conditions are still required in order to put this vision into practice.

Learn more: Crowd Oil – Fuels From Air-conditioning Systems

 

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Refrigerators and air conditioners could run on an eco-friendly solid material instead of gases

via University of Cambridge

Researchers from the UK and Spain have identified an eco-friendly solid that could replace the inefficient and polluting gases used in most refrigerators and air conditioners.

Refrigeration and air conditioning currently devour a fifth of the energy produced worldwide, and demand for cooling is only going up.

Xavier Moya

When put under pressure, plastic crystals of neopentylglycol yield huge cooling effects – enough that they are competitive with conventional coolants. In addition, the material is inexpensive, widely available and functions at close to room temperature. Details are published in the journal Nature Communications.

The gases currently used in the vast majority of refrigerators and air conditioners —hydrofluorocarbons and hydrocarbons (HFCs and HCs) — are toxic and flammable. When they leak into the air, they also contribute to global warming.

“Refrigerators and air conditioners based on HFCs and HCs are also relatively inefficient,” said Dr Xavier Moya, from the University of Cambridge, who led the research with Professor Josep Lluís Tamarit, from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. “That’s important because refrigeration and air conditioning currently devour a fifth of the energy produced worldwide, and demand for cooling is only going up.”

To solve these problems, materials scientists around the world have sought alternative solid refrigerants. Moya, a Royal Society Research Fellow in Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, is one of the leaders in this field.

In their newly-published research, Moya and collaborators from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and the Universitat de Barcelona describe the enormous thermal changes under pressure achieved with plastic crystals.

Conventional cooling technologies rely on the thermal changes that occur when a compressed fluid expands. Most cooling devices work by compressing and expanding fluids such as HFCs and HCs. As the fluid expands, it decreases in temperature, cooling its surroundings.

With solids, cooling is achieved by changing the material’s microscopic structure. This change can be achieved by applying a magnetic field, an electric field or through mechanic force. For decades, these caloric effects have fallen behind the thermal changes available in fluids, but the discovery of colossal barocaloric effects in a plastic crystal of neopentylglycol (NPG) and other related organic compounds has levelled the playfield.

Due to the nature of their chemical bonds, organic materials are easier to compress, and NPG is widely used in the synthesis of paints, polyesters, plasticisers and lubricants. It’s not only widely available, but also is inexpensive.

NPG’s molecules, composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, are nearly spherical and interact with each other only weakly. These loose bonds in its microscopic structure permit the molecules to rotate relatively freely.

The word “plastic” in “plastic crystals” refers not to its chemical composition but rather to its malleability. Plastic crystals lie at the boundary between solids and liquids.

Compressing NPG yields unprecedentedly large thermal changes due to molecular reconfiguration. The temperature change achieved is comparable with those exploited commercially in HFCs and HCs.

The discovery of colossal barocaloric effects in a plastic crystal should bring barocaloric materials to the forefront of research and development to achieve safe environmentally friendly cooling without compromising performance.

Moya is now working with Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, to bring this technology to market.

Learn more: Green material for refrigeration identified

 

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Could this be the most promising alternative technology to existing heat pumps or refrigerators?

via Saarland University

It can be used to cool or heat the air in a room or to cool or heat liquids. And it looks like something that Q – the tech specialist and gadgeteer in the James Bond films – might have come up with.

The prototype device, which has been developed by a research team led by Professors Stefan Seelecke and Andreas Schütze at Saarland University, is able to transfer heat using ‘muscles’ made from nickel-titanium. Nickel-titanium or nitinol, as it is often known, is a shape-memory material that releases heat to its surroundings when it is mechanically loaded in its superelastic state and absorbs heat from its surroundings when it is unloaded. This unusual property is the reason why nitinol is also referred to as a ‘smart alloy’ or as ‘muscle wire’. This effect has been exploited by the Saarbrücken researchers who have developed an environmentally friendly heating and cooling system that is two to three times more efficient than conventional heating and cooling devices.

The EU Commission and the US Department of Energy have both assessed the new process and consider it to be the most promising alternative technology to existing vapour-compression refrigeration systems.

The team of Saarbrücken engineers will be exhibiting their technology at this year’s Hannover Messe from the 1st to the 5th of April at the Saarland Research and Innovation Stand (Hall 2, Stand B46).

The rules are clear enough: To cool something down, you need to remove heat from it. And to warm something up, thermal energy has to be supplied to it. The prototype system that the engineers at Saarland University have developed does both these things. But their system transports heat using a novel method that avoids the problems and disadvantages associated with conventional heating and cooling systems. ‘Our system does without the conventional refrigerants that are so damaging to the environment,’ explains Professor Andreas Schütze of Saarland University – an expert in the field of sensor and measuring technology.

The underlying principle is simple and essentially involves subjecting a particular shape-memory alloy (SMA) – in this case nickel-titanium – to controlled loading/unloading cycles. ‘The resulting phase transitions that occur in the alloy’s crystal lattice release or absorb latent heat, depending on which part of the cycle the material is in,’ says Professor Stefan Seelecke, who holds the Chair in Intelligent Material Systems at Saarland University. This effect is particularly pronounced in wires made from nickel-titanium. ‘When pre-stressed nitinol wires are unloaded at room temperature, they cool down by as much as 20 degrees,’ says Felix Welsch who has been working on the prototype as part of his doctoral research project, along with his team colleague Susanne-Marie Kirsch. This phenomenon makes it possible to remove heat from the system. ‘When the wires are mechanically loaded they heat up by a similar amount, so that the process can also be used as a heat pump,’ explains Welsch.

The prototype is the first continuously operating machine that cools air using this process. The team has designed and developed a patent-pending cam drive whose rotation ensures that bundles of 200 micron-thick nitinol wires are alternately loaded and unloaded in such a way that heat is transferred as efficiently as possible. Air is blown through the fibre bundles in two separate chambers: in one chamber the air is heated, in the other it is cooled. The device can therefore be operated either as a heat pump or as a refrigerator.

But what sounds so simple turns out to be difficult and complex to implement. The engineers at Saarland University and at Zema (Center for Mechatronics and Automation Technology) in Saarbrücken have spent a number of years working on the problem in different projects, including the DFG-funded priority programme ‘Ferroic Cooling’. Using a combination of experimental investigations and numerical modelling they were able to identify how to maximize the efficiency of the underlying mechanism, the wire loading level needed to achieve a specific degree of cooling, the ideal rotational speed and how many nitinol wires need to be included in a bundle. ‘The greater the surface area, the faster the heat transfer, that’s why bundles of wires provide the best cooling capabilities,’ explains Susanne-Marie Kirsch. ‘We use a thermal imaging camera to analyse precisely how the heating and cooling stages proceed.’ As a result of their research work, the engineering team now has a range of parameters that they can adjust to tailor their system to meet different needs. ‘We have taken the results obtained so far and have developed a software program that allows us to precisely tune our heating and cooling technology on a computer for specific applications. Once the computer modelling and planning has been completed, the system can then be built,’ explains Kirsch.

This basic research may well have interesting industrial applications, because the novel heating and cooling technology developed in Saarbrücken is highly efficient. Depending on the alloy used, the heating or cooling power of the system is up to thirty times greater than the mechanical power required to load and unload the alloy wire bundles. That already makes the new system at least twice as good as a conventional heat pump and three-times better than a conventional refrigerator. ‘Our new technology is also environmentally friendly and does not harm the climate, as the heat transfer mechanism does not use liquids or vapors. So the air in an air-conditioning system can be cooled directly without the need for an intermediate heat exchanger, and we don’t have to use leak-free, high-pressure piping,’ explains Professor Seelecke.

The team is currently working on further optimizing heat transfer within the system in order to boost the efficiency of the new technology even more. ‘Our objective is to get to a stage where almost all of the energy from the phase transition is being used for heating or cooling,’ says doctoral student Felix Welsch.

Learn more: Saarbrücken research team uses artificial muscles to develop an air conditioner for the future

 

 

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Friendly cooling technology works without mechanical compressors or chemical refrigerants, and generates drinking water

NUS Engineering researchers developed a novel air cooling technology that could redefine the future of air-conditioning.

All-weather friendly cooling technology works without mechanical compressors or chemical refrigerants, and generates drinking water

A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has pioneered a new water-based air-conditioning system that cools air to as low as 18 degrees Celsius without the use of energy-intensive compressors and environmentally harmful chemical refrigerants. This game-changing technology could potentially replace the century-old air-cooling principle that is still being used in our modern-day air-conditioners. Suitable for both indoor and outdoor use, the novel system is portable and it can also be customised for all types of weather conditions.

Led by Associate Professor Ernest Chua from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NUS Faculty of Engineering, the team’s novel air-conditioning system is cost-effective to produce, and it is also more eco-friendly and sustainable. The system consumes about 40 per cent less electricity than current compressor-based air-conditioners used in homes and commercial buildings. This translates into more than 40 per cent reduction in carbon emissions. In addition, it adopts a water-based cooling technology instead of using chemical refrigerants such as chlorofluorocarbon and hydrochlorofluorocarbon for cooling, thus making it safer and more environmentally-friendly.

To add another feather to its eco-friendliness cap, the novel system generates potable drinking water while it cools ambient air.

Assoc Prof Chua said, “For buildings located in the tropics, more than 40 per cent of the building’s energy consumption is attributed to air-conditioning. We expect this rate to increase dramatically, adding an extra punch to global warming. First invented by Willis Carrier in 1902, vapour compression air-conditioning is the most widely used air-conditioning technology today. This approach is very energy-intensive and environmentally harmful. In contrast, our novel membrane and water-based cooling technology is very eco-friendly – it can provide cool and dry air without using a compressor and chemical refrigerants. This is a new starting point for the next generation of air-conditioners, and our technology has immense potential to disrupt how air-conditioning has traditionally been provided.

Innovative membrane and water-based cooling technology

Current air-conditioning systems require a large amount of energy to remove moisture and to cool the dehumidified air. By developing two systems to perform these two processes separately, the NUS Engineering team can better control each process and hence achieve greater energy efficiency.

The novel air-conditioning system first uses an innovative membrane technology – a paper-like material – to remove moisture from humid outdoor air. The dehumidified air is then cooled via a dew-point cooling system that uses water as the cooling medium instead of harmful chemical refrigerants. Unlike vapour compression air-conditioners, the novel system does not release hot air to the environment. Instead, a cool air stream that is comparatively less humid than environmental humidity is discharged – negating the effect of micro-climate. About 12 to 15 litres of potable drinking water can also be harvested after operating the air-conditioning system for a day.

“Our cooling technology can be easily tailored for all types of weather conditions, from humid climate in the tropics to arid climate in the deserts. While it can be used for indoor living and commercial spaces, it can also be easily scaled up to provide air-conditioning for clusters of buildings in an energy-efficient manner. This novel technology is also highly suitable for confined spaces such as bomb shelters or bunkers, where removing moisture from the air is critical for human comfort, as well as for sustainable operation of delicate equipment in areas such as field hospitals, armoured personnel carriers, and operation decks of navy ships as well as aircrafts,” explained Assoc Prof Chua.

The research team is currently refining the design of the air-conditioning system to further improve its user-friendliness. The NUS researchers are also working to incorporate smart features such as pre-programmed thermal settings based on human occupancy and real-time tracking of its energy efficiency. The team hopes to work with industry partners to commercialise the technology.

Learn more: NUS researchers pioneer water-based, eco-friendly and energy-saving air-conditioner

 

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