Cool Tech: The Polymer That Could Boost Efficiency

Mar 1, 2024 7:49:11 AM By Stacy Fitzgerald-Redd
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Shuang-Cui-Lab-1-2000-1888d5589f42ec3d-1Residential dehumidification has several benefits, including improved comfort, prevention of mold and mildew, and better respiratory health. Low humidity enabled by dehumidifiers also helps air feel cooler, allowing residents to set their thermostats at higher in the summer without sacrificing comfort. This can reduce the workload of the air conditioning system and save homeowners money.

With a $1.7 million four-year National Science Foundation grant, researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas are developing a quick-drying polymeric desiccant that could dehumidify buildings using at least 30 percent less energy than conventional air-conditioning systems.


Aiding the Building’s HVAC System

The research team, led by Dr. Shuang (Cynthia) Cui, engineer and principal investigator, wants to apply the polymer inside the building’s heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system to coat a rotating cylinder and absorb moisture from the air during part of a rotation. As the structure oscillates, the water-filled material moves through a regeneration stage that exposes it to low heat to remove the absorbed material in a continuously repeating cycle.

“Our goal is to develop the desiccant to help dehumidify and cool buildings more efficiently than conventional air-conditioning systems and lower carbon emissions significantly,” Dr. Cui said. “It is imperative to improve dehumidification energy efficiency. Efficient air dehumidification represents an excellent opportunity to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to facilitate the sustainability and decarbonization movement to counteract climate change.”

Residential homes are responsible for about 19 percent of U.S. emissions. Air conditioners and electric fans account for 20 percent of total electricity used in buildings worldwide, and climate change driven temperature increases will expand the demand for air conditioning. Dehumidifying warm air can use half or more of an air conditioner’s energy.

The thermo-resistive desiccant can make air conditioning more efficient by separating the dehumidification and heat removal processes and improving the most energy-consuming steps. Unlike traditional air conditioning systems, a system using the desiccant would not need to cool coils at low temperatures to condense moisture from the air as part of the dehumidification process. Also, it would not need to be heated at high temperatures to evaporate collected moisture, unlike a traditional air conditioner.

The researchers are developing several thermos-resistive polymers to determine which formula works best.


Why It Matters

Building science is getting smarter and faster in the use of novel technologies to decarbonize the built environment. A double-digit reduction in the energy used in air conditioning would be a noteworthy achievement, particularly as the demand for air conditioners increases globally. This is an exciting project to keep an eye on in the future.

To learn more about this project, click here.


Photo credit: University of Texas at Dallas






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