Desiccant Cooling Poised for Entry into Mainstream Markets
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The meeting took place at NREL's Thermal Test Facility, a state-of-the-art research laboratory for buildings energy science. NREL is conducting benchmark tests of prototype desiccant cooling systems to help set performance standards and analyze cost/benefit tradeoffs.
"The argument in the HVAC industry today is that it's just not practical to keep relative humidity below 65 percent," said Ron Fiskum, who manages the U.S. Department of Energy's desiccant research program. "We're saying that it's not only possible but practical to achieve relative humidities of 40 to 60 percent."
According to market studies presented at the meeting, desiccant cooling and dehumidification systems could generate $700 million in annual sales if costs can be lowered to competitive levels. Near-term markets include hospitals, nursing homes and other large buildings where indoor air quality is greatly valued. Market projections include retrofits of existing buildings as well as new construction.
Desiccant cooling systems use materials such as titanium silica gel to remove moisture from building air. The desiccant materials are embedded in a rotating wheel, which can be regenerated by a variety of heat sources ranging from natural-gas-fired dryers to waste heat recovery systems.
NREL is testing industry prototypes at its desiccant test facility, which measures wheel performance factors with high accuracy in accordance with American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning standards. Researchers also are developing diagnostic techniques using tracer gases and infrared sensing.
Other participants in the two-year, cost-shared research program include the Carrier Corp., Trane Company, Englehard/ICC, SEMCO Inc. and the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratories. Activities are being coordinated with those of the Gas Research Institute. The group is searching for buildings where the technology can be carefully monitored and its benefits showcased.