Despite the fact that air conditioning is available nearly everywhere in the U.S., the technology used today is largely the same as it was a century ago when Carrier first installed a unit in Brooklyn. There are many emerging technologies that use far less energy to cool a room, but few have really scaled up to take on the incumbent. For commercial applications, however, the problem can be as much about fitting into existing systems as cutting the energy requirements.
Advantix Systems is one of the companies giving a relatively old technology, liquid desiccants, another look. The company was founded in Israel where the systems were first installed to cool ice rinks. Advantix is now based in Miami, and offers a range of commercial systems that use a brine solution to cool the air. The technology is far more efficient at taking humidity out of the air, something traditional ACs are not that good at.
Liquid desiccants have been around since the 1930s, “but the biggest thing that has changed is in building design and envelopes,” said Hannah Choi Granade, president of Advantix Systems. “We can remove moisture from the air for a lot less energy.” Advantix estimates its system uses 20 percent to 60 percent less energy than traditional systems.
Fifty years ago, she said an AC mostly had to bring the temperature down, while maybe 10 percent of the air conditioner’s job was removing moisture from the air. With better building envelopes and far more people living in hotter climates in the U.S., Granade said the load profile is much closer to 50/50 in terms of temperature reduction versus moisture reduction. “Now, alternate solutions have become more interesting,” she added.
While Southern climates in the U.S. are very promising for Advantix, so are emerging markets. “Most of the economic growth globally is in places that are phenomenally humid,” said Granade. “They put Miami to shame.” Advantix, which was named a 2013 Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer, has offices in Israel, Mumbai and Shanghai. The company has about 1,000 installations worldwide.
*Image Credit: TIAX
Another factor that makes liquid desiccants more attractive in recent years is the increasing requirements for low-humidity environments, from surgical rooms to certain types of manufacturing. Energy-efficient buildings, which have lower heat load because of LED lighting and energy-efficient electronics, are also a good match for liquid dessicant cooling.
Most traditional ACs have to overcool the air to remove the humidity. The technology, which passes air through a lithium chloride brine solution, can absorb much more humidity without overcooling it. The technology also integrates a heat pump that takes advantage of any waste heat coming off of the system. If the building has another source of waste heat or renewables, Advantix offers solutions that can work with those systems.
The real IP, said Granade, is in the fact that the system is plug-and-play with traditional AC systems. “You want a box you can just drop in,” she added. In fact, Advantix will often be installed alongside other AC units, rather than replace them completely. The company works with a range of manufacturers that bundle AC solutions, as well as contractors, ESCOs and solar installers that work with ESCOs for energy efficiency retrofits.
Granade estimates that about 75 percent of the cooling market would benefit from Advantix’s system. But there are also a host of other emerging solutions that could give the company a run for its money, including big players like Carrier and Trane that are developing liquid desiccant offerings. There are also various companies rethinking the AC, from computerized compressors to solar air conditioners to more efficient chillers. The Department of Energy’s ARPA-E has given more than $34 million to its AC innovation project, the Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEETIT).
Advantix knows that competition looms on the horizon, but feels that its drop-in system and first-mover advantage will play well. Also, the global air conditioning market is expected to nearly double from 2012 to 2018 to nearly $180 billion. “We have plenty of room to run ahead of us,” said Granade.