In the US, air conditioners use about 5 percent of all the electricity produced, at an annual cost of over $11 billion to householders. In smaller, hotter developing countries like Singapore, 30% of household power
is used for air conditioning and 40% in commercial buildings.
At the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia
in Barcelona, architects have been working on walls that cool themselves without the need for electricity. This unique idea is based around a substance known as "hydrogel." The material can absorb water and expand up to 400 times its original size; the water then evaporates as the air around the hydrogel heats up. This cools the air around the gel by 5°C. This concept is not too dissimilar to the way in which the human body cools itself down — evaporating water from the skins surface in the form of sweat. This material would be used to form hydroceramic walls which the IAAC believe would cut power consumption around 28 percent on a standard air conditioning unit.
In a recent article
on the Guardian’s Sustainable Business section by Bernie Bulkin a former chief scientist of BP and chair of the Office of Renewable Energy for the UK government from 2010-2013, discussed other alternative materials. Bulkin believes some of these new materials could see commercial air conditioning using 10 percent of the energy required to run today’s units. Bulkin reports that these new materials, similar to hydrogel, are being researched and developed across the world. From the University of Birmingham to the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf and MIT in the US, more universities are racing to produce solutions.
However, it is not just the materials that matter. At Pennsylvania State University, researchers have already used sound waves to successfully cool a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream freezer
. ARPA-E (the US Advanced Research Projects for Energy) has awarded the team a million dollar grant along with the task of scaling the thermoacoustic cooling system up in order to create a 1 ton prototype.
Although at the early stages, the general consensus is that it won’t be long until this technology will be available on the market. EOC Services
who offer industrial scale air conditioning in Peterborough and the UK said: "Developments such as these could revolutionise our industry, not to mention increase the world's overall energy but it will take time to roll these materials out to companies like ours."