An article on Alternet.org titled, “Air-Conditioning Is Terrible for the Earth — Here’s How to Live Without It” caught my attention. My response to the article’s premise that we just have to learn to live without air conditioning is a definite, “Hell, no!” Yes, it is true that air conditioning uses a considerable amount of energy, which in turn increases carbon dioxide emissions. It’s a vicious cycle, to use an old cliché. Fortunately, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) invented the Desiccant-Enhanced eVaporative air conditioner (DEVap).
The DEVap has the potential to be 50 to 90 percent more energy efficient than traditional air conditioners. What it does is take the concept of evaporate coolers and make them work in all climates. It uses desiccants to solve the problem. Wikipedia defines a desiccant as a “substance that induces or sustains a state of dryness in its local vicinity in a moderately well-sealed container.”
According to the NREL, the DEVap “relies on the desiccants’ capacity to create dry air using heat and evaporative coolers’ capacity to take dry air and make cold air.” In other words, it allows the DEVap to cool a place down despite the humidity in the air or the extremely high temperatures that occur in areas with dry heat, like the San Joaquin Valley of California. As everyone knows, the traditional swamp cooler just does not work in humid areas or when the temperatures rise over 100 degrees in a hot, dry area.
Eric Kozubal, co-inventor of the DEVap, says that the idea of it is to “revolutionize cooling, while removing millions of metric tons of carbon from the air.”
“We’d been working with membranes, evaporative coolers and desiccants. We saw an opportunity to combine them into a single device for a product with unique capabilities,” Kozubal adds.
A great feature of the DEVap is that it uses “highly concentrated aqueous salt solutions of lithium chloride or calcium chloride,” as the NREL describes, as desiccants. The salt solutions, unlike refrigerants, do not produce chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). One pound of CFC or HCFC in air conditioners using refrigerants adds up to 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
The bad news is that it will be a few years before DEVap air conditioners are on the market. When they are available, they will save consumers money, and the environment at the same time. I say, bring it on!