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Bill Gates’ BEV backs air con startup Blue Frontier

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The Blue Frontier founding team testing a prototype at Oak Ridge National Labs. From left to right: Matt Graham (VP of Engineering), Daniel Betts (CEO) and Matt Tilghman (CTO).

Air-con has the potential to maintain people cool as climate change keeps making the planet hotter. At the identical time, conventional air con technology uses numerous energy, meaning it’s contributing to climate change — and may have a much bigger effect as more people need air conditioners to remain comfortable and even survive.

Currently, air con is liable for nearly 4% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, in accordance with an evaluation by scientists from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center released in March. Those emissions are expected to worsen as more people install air conditioners, especially in India, China, and Indonesia, in accordance with a joint statement from the NREL and Xerox PARC.

“It’s a superb and a foul thing,” Jason Woods, an NREL senior research engineer and co-author of the brand new study, said in a press release in regards to the research. “It’s good that more people can profit from improved comfort, however it also means rather a lot more energy is used, and carbon emissions are increased.”

Conventional air conditioner technology uses a vapor compression cycle to chill the air. In that system, refrigerant is used to do the cooling.

Chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons was once a part of probably the most common refrigerants in air conditioners, but those chemicals deplete the ozone layer they usually’re being phased out. There are a pair dozen alternatives that do not harm the ozone layer, but they still have a high global warming potential.

As well as, numerous energy in a traditional air conditioner is used to over-cool the air in an effort to make it less humid and more comfortable.

Of the 1,950 million tons of carbon dioxide released annually from the energy used to power air con, 531 million of those tons are to chill the air and 599 million tons are to remove the humidity, in accordance with the NREL and Xerox PARC research. An extra 820 million come tons from the leakage of refrigerants and from greenhouse gasses emitted throughout the manufacturing and transporting of the air conditioner units.

“We have already made the prevailing, century-old technology nearly as efficient as possible,” Woods said within the statement. “To get a transformational change in efficiency, we’d like to take a look at different approaches without the constraints of the prevailing one.”

That is the goal of Blue Frontier. The startup is working on technology that can make air con more efficient with fewer harmful environmental by-products, and just scored a $20 million round led by Bill Gates investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

It began with anthrax

Blue Frontier uses one-third to one-fifth the quantity of refrigerants that will be required for a traditional system, and since the development of the machine is different than a traditional air conditioner, it might use a refrigerant with a lower global warming potential. “The combined effect is an 85% to 87% reduction in our system’s contribution to global warming,” Betts told CNBC.

The technology was actually discovered in efforts to kill airborne anthrax, which is a potential bioterrorism weapon, in accordance with CEO Daniel Betts. It’s based on liquid desiccants, that are chemicals with a lower level of vapor pressure than water. When humid air is omitted that liquid desiccant, the water is pulled out, dehumidifying the air.

“Liquid desiccants are excellent antiseptics and bactericides. So the contact of anthrax with the liquid desiccant would kill it. This initial research led to innovations and discoveries that form the idea of Blue Frontier’s technology,” Betts told CNBC. “In truth, one among the benefits of Blue Frontier air con technology can be a general improvement of indoor air quality and a healthier indoor environment.”

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The Blue Frontier system getting tested on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Courtesy Blue Frontier

Some refrigerant is utilized in the Blue Frontier system however it just isn’t used to do the cooling, it’s used for operating the warmth pump that regulates the salt concentration of the desiccant.

“Thus, the refrigerant and refrigerant carrying equipment never meets air entering the constructing or the inside of the constructing,” Betts told CNBC. “This provides us an infinite advantage to make use of available refrigerants which might be mildly flammable, without putting in danger the protection of the people within the constructing.”

Air conditioners that store energy, too

The liquid desiccant that Blue Frontier uses may be stored contained in the air con machine in a small plastic tank, essentially storing the cooling capability for use when it’s most needed. That is critical for a decarbonizing grid that will probably be increasingly depending on renewables, like wind and solar, that are each intermittent sources of energy.

“The storage also allows us to eat the majority of our energy when renewable energy is abundant and when electric grid congestion is low. We avoid consuming electricity during peak demand periods which might be powered by fossil fuel peaking plants,” Betts told CNBC.

“Summer peak demand just isn’t just an issue since it causes brown-outs, it increases the associated fee of electricity, and produces more greenhouse gas emissions. It is usually a reason behind forest fires. When everyone consumes electricity for air con throughout the hottest days of the yr, the big amount of electricity flowing through the transmission and distribution lines heats them up and makes them sag,” said Betts. “This increases the probability that they may are available contact with vegetation, causing forest fires.”

For VoLo Earth Ventures, one other investor within the round announced Thursday, that storage capability can also be a key reason why Blue Frontier’s solution is attractive.

“Blue Frontier’s technology is a game changer for each cooling decarbonization and grid efficiency,” Kareem Dabbagh, co-founder at VoLo Earth Ventures, said in written statement. “Their intersection of novel cooling technology and energy storage enables recent opportunities to flatten large afternoon grid peaks in cooling demand, saving money for consumers and utilities.”

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The prototype for the Blue Frontier air conditioner.

Photo courtesy Blue Frontier.

Learning from past mistakes

Before launching Blue Frontier, Betts launched one other air conditioner start-up, Be Power Tech, which aimed to commercialize technology that each was an air conditioner and a source of energy. The startup failed, and Betts learned that constructing an organization on two technologies that are not yet developed is simply too much.

“I made the cardinal mistake of technology startups which is I put two completely recent technologies depending on one another and merged them,” Betts told CNBC. “So, double the danger, double the cash required. And in order that company didn’t do this great.”

But he learned rather a lot about launching a product right into a market that will probably be adopted and used.

“The insight was that we’d like to do something that doesn’t change how people interact with the air conditioner within the constructing,” Betts said. “To the installer, and to the builder, or to the constructing owner, it should just be a substitute or conventional air conditioner with ours.”

So that’s what Betts and his team is attempting to do.

They’re taking the technology, which has been been proven in prototypes tested at National Renewable Energy Laboratory and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and scale it up for business buildings first.

Some test units will probably be installed in buildings in 2022, and one other round of pre-commercial unites are expected to enter buildings in 2023 after which the primary business product for business buildings will probably be available in 2025. And if all goes well, a residential product will probably be available on the market by 2026 or 2027, Betts told CNBC.

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