University develops water-based air conditioning system

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Published: 08 January 2018


Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) say they have developed a  water-based air conditioning system able to cool air to as low as 18C without the use of compressors or chemical refrigerants.

Led by Associate Professor Ernest Chua from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the team claims the system is cost-effective to produce and consumes around 40 per cent less electricity than compressor-based air conditioners used in homes and commercial buildings, resulting in significant reduction in carbon emissions.
Prof Chua said: “Vapour compression air conditioning is the most widely used 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.

The NUS system uses polymer-coated membranes 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  chemical refrigerants. The university says drinking water can also be harvested from an operational system.

Prof Chua added: “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  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.”

The research team is now  refining the design of the system and exploring ways to  incorporate smart features such as pre-programmed thermal settings based on human occupancy and real-time tracking of its energy efficiency. The team then hopes to work with industry partners to commercialise the technology.