Latest High-Efficiency Air Conditioners Focus on Cutting Humidity

(p. B4) Air conditioners make people cooler and the world hotter. A slew of startups are launching new products to break that cycle.

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Companies such as Blue Frontier, Transaera and Montana Technologies are raising money from investors including industry giant Carrier Global and Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures to develop more efficient technologies. Many of those efforts focus on the humidity rather than the heat, using new materials like liquid salt to dry out the air.

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Blue Frontier aims to separate humidity and temperature control using a liquid salt solution that was developed with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The solution also stores energy, reducing consumption at peak times, when electricity grids are strained on hot days.

The salt solution is an industrial version of the little packets that absorb moisture to keep products dry during shipping. The solution is heated up, releasing water and boosting the concentration of salt, making it more absorbent. This can be done when electricity demand is low and effectively stores energy until cooling is needed.

When air conditioning is needed, the solution is brought in contact with air, absorbing water and removing humidity. The air is cooled within a component called a heat exchanger using a high-efficiency method to lower air temperature by exposing it to water. The dry air absorbs the water, lowering its temperature and the temperature of the heat exchanger. That air that absorbs the water becomes warm and humid and is moved outside. At the same time, air that moves through the chilled heat exchanger flows into the room that is being cooled.

After raising $20 million from investors including Breakthrough last year, Blue Frontier is trialing ACs for businesses. “Air conditioning could be a solution to the problem rather than being the problem,” Betts said.

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“The climate problem is only going to get worse if we continue to add the same types of air conditioners to meet that demand,” said Sorin Grama, CEO of Transaera, which is developing a new AC using highly absorbent materials that remove humidity. The company raised $4.5 million from investors including Carrier last year and is currently making prototypes.

Grama co-founded Transaera with a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor after working in India for a refrigeration company and seeing that air conditioners were too expensive for many consumers in the country.

For the full story, see:

Amrith Ramkumar. “Companies Race To Build a Better Air Conditioner.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, June 29, 2023): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 28, 2023, and has the title “The Race to Build a Better Air Conditioner.”)

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