DOE Invests Nearly $8 Million for Development of Next-Generation HVAC

April 22, 2015
The technologies fall into two major categories: advanced vapor compression and non-vapor compression.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) yesterday announced nearly $8 million to advance research and development of next-generation HVAC technologies offering significant energy and cost savings in new and existing buildings.

The technologies fall into two major categories: advanced vapor compression and non-vapor compression.

Advanced Vapor Compression

The advanced vapor-compression systems will employ highly efficient versions of technologies currently driving HVAC systems, but use refrigerants having minimal impact on the environment.

United Technologies Research Center (UTRC), East Hartford, Conn., will receive $975,000 to demonstrate a centrifugal compressor that will enable high efficiency in commercial rooftop systems in the 1.5-to-10-ton range. These systems could provide 30 percent annual energy savings with less than two years payback by 2020 and, if fully commercialized, save 2.5 quads of energy by 2030.

Mechanical Solutions Inc., Whippany, N.J., and Lennox Industries Inc., Richardson, Texas, will receive $1 million to develop a HVAC system featuring a small centrifugal compressor that is highly efficient. This project initially will focus on improving residential HVAC, but eventually could be scaled to commercial systems as large as 20 tons.

Non-Vapor Compression

The non-vapor-compression systems will employ new technologies using refrigerants not affecting the environment.

Dais Analytic, Odessa, Fla., will receive $1.2 million to advance membrane HVAC technology using nanostructured polymer materials to manipulate water molecules, which will allow the system to condition air while improving energy efficiency and eliminating fluorocarbon refrigerants. The project will result in a rooftop-capable system for field testing.

Maryland Energy and Sensor Technologies LLC (MEST), College Park, Md., will receive roughly $600,000 to develop a compact thermoelastic-cooling (TEC) system with high efficiency, low environmental impact, and a small carbon footprint. TEC works by stretching and then relaxing metal rods, creating heat, but cooling rapidly when released. The alternation between the two states performs the same task as a heat-pump compressor. Currently, TEC requires a large mechanical loading system resulting in high materials cost. MEST will solve this problem by reducing system size by a factor of 10.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn., will receive about $1.4 million to develop a magnetocaloric air conditioner with the potential to improve efficiency by up to 25 percent over conventional vapor-compression systems, equivalent to saving 1 quad of energy annually for space heating and cooling in the U.S. residential sector. The system moves copper, brass, or aluminum rods in and out of a magnetic field produced by passing electricity through a copper coil. The temperature of the rods drops when they are in the magnetic field. The rods absorb heat, which is transferred to the outside when the rods are removed from the magnetic field. The concept window air conditioner produces electricity through a magnetic field. It possibly could be scaled to larger systems.

UTRC will receive roughly $1 million to demonstrate an electrocaloric heat pump that will be 50 percent smaller than current models, run more quietly, and likely cost less to maintain because of its simple mechanical design. If fully commercialized, the heat pump could result in annual energy savings of more than 1.5 quads and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 60 million metric tons.

Xergy Inc., Seaford, Dela., will receive $1.4 million to develop electrochemical-compression (ECC) technology in combination with an energy-recovery module to replace solid-state compressors in heat pumps. ECC uses fuel-cell technology to enable heat pumps to use water as the refrigerant. Thermodynamic modeling shows efficiency improvements of 30 to 56 percent are attainable in a commercial system. The project seeks to produce a commercial unit with a five-year or better payback period.

About the Author

Scott Arnold | Executive Editor

Described by a colleague as "a cyborg ... requir(ing) virtually no sleep, no time off, and bland nourishment that can be consumed while at his desk" who was sent "back from the future not to terminate anyone, but with the prime directive 'to edit dry technical copy' in order to save the world at a later date," Scott Arnold joined the editorial staff of HPAC Engineering in 1999. Prior to that, he worked as an editor for daily newspapers and a specialty-publications company. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Kent State University.