Your Tax Dollars at Work, Air-Conditioning Edition.

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(Pat Corkery/NREL)

As nice as it would be if we find one magical new technology that will solve all our energy problems from now until forever (and who knows, we might), people who are serious about energy know that the solution to the energy problems that plague us -- global warming, oil spills, and so on -- will probably have to come from a variety of new approaches all working together. Better batteries to move the entire fleet to hybrid or all-electric cars, more efficient solar panels, more use of wind and tidal power -- we're going to need it all. Conservation may be the least sexy part of the equation -- or so you thought! Do the words "syrupy desiccants" get your heart pumping? Well, they ought to, because they could revolutionize that most spectacular of 20th-century inventions, air-conditioning.

You've probably never heard of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, but the folks there seem to have created something pretty awesome. It's called the Desiccant-Enhanced eVaporative air-conditioner, or DEVap. Here are some excerpts from their press release (via Technology Review):

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory has invented a new air conditioning process with the potential of using 50 percent to 90 percent less energy than today's top-of-the-line units. It uses membranes, evaporative cooling and liquid desiccants in a way that has never been done before in the centuries-old science of removing heat from the air. ...

Because DEVap uses salt solutions rather than refrigerants, there are no harmful chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) to worry about. A pound of CFC or HCFC in refrigerant-based A/Cs contributes as much to global warming as 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. A typical residential size A/C has as much as 13 pounds of these refrigerants. ...

Eventually, NREL will license the technology to industry, "We're never going to be in the air conditioner manufacturing business", said Ron Judkoff, Principle Program Manager for Building Energy Research at NREL. "But we'd like to work with manufacturers to bring DEVap to market and create a more efficient and environmentally benign air conditioning product."

This is part of our ongoing effort to alert you to cool stuff the government is doing. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

-- Paul Waldman

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