Bill Gates’ BEV backs air conditioning startup Blue Frontier

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

The air conditioner can also cool people down climate change continues to warm the planet. At the same time, conventional air conditioning technology consumes a lot of energy, which means that it contributes to climate change and will have a greater effect as more people need air conditioners to feel comfortable or even survive.

At present, air conditioning is responsible for almost 4% of global greenhouse gas emissionsaccording to analysis by scientists from the Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory as well as Xerox Palo Alto Research Center released in March. These emissions are expected to increase as more people install air conditioners, especially in India, China and Indonesia, according to a joint statement from NREL and Xerox PARC.

“It’s good and bad” Jason Woods, Senior Research Engineer, NREL and co-author of the new study, the study statement said. “It’s good that more people can benefit from improved comfort, but it also means a lot more energy is being used and carbon emissions are increasing.”

Conventional air conditioning technology uses a vapor compression cycle to cool the air. This system uses refrigerant for cooling.

CFCs and HCFCs used to be the most common refrigerants in air conditioners, but these chemicals are depleting the ozone layer and are being phased out. There are a couple dozen alternatives that do not harm the ozone layer, but still have a high global warming potential.

In addition, in a conventional air conditioner, a lot of energy is spent on supercooling the air to make it less humid and more comfortable.

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According to a study by NREL and Xerox PARC, of ​​the 1,950 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted each year as a result of energy used for air conditioning, 531 million tons come from air cooling and 599 million tons from dehumidification. Another 820 million tons are due to refrigerant leaks and greenhouse gas emissions from the production and transportation of air conditioners.

“We have already made existing age-old technology near the maximum efficiency,” Woods said in a statement. “In order to get a transformational change in efficiency, we need to consider different approaches without the limitations of the existing one.”

This is the goal blue border. The startup is working on technology that will make air conditioning more efficient with fewer environmentally harmful by-products and just won a $20 million round led by Bill Gates’ investment fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

It started with anthrax

The Blue Frontier uses one-third to one-fifth the amount of refrigerant required for a conventional system, and because the machine is designed differently than a conventional air conditioner, it can use a refrigerant with a lower global warming potential. “The cumulative effect is an 85-87% reduction in our system’s contribution to global warming,” CEO Daniel Betts told CNBC.

In fact, the technology was discovered to combat airborne anthrax, which potential bioterrorism weapon, according to Betts. It is based on liquid desiccants, which are chemicals with lower vapor pressure levels than water. As moist air passes over this liquid desiccant, water is drawn out, drying the air.

“Liquid desiccants are excellent antiseptics and bactericides. Thus, contact of anthrax with liquid desiccant will kill it. This initial research led to the innovations and discoveries that formed the basis of the Blue Frontier technology,” Betts told CNBC. “In fact, one of the benefits of Blue Frontier air conditioning technology will be an overall improvement in indoor air quality and a healthier indoor environment.”

The Blue Frontier system is being tested at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Contributed by Blue Frontier

The Blue Frontier system uses some refrigerant, but it is not used for cooling, but for running a heat pump that regulates the concentration of salt in the desiccant.

“This way, the refrigerant and the equipment carrying the refrigerant never collide with the air entering the building or inside the building,” Betts told CNBC. “This gives us a huge advantage in using flammable, readily available refrigerants without compromising the safety of people in the building.”

Air conditioners that also store energy

The liquid desiccant Blue Frontier uses can be stored inside the air conditioner in a small plastic tank, essentially storing cooling capacity to be used when it’s needed most. This is critical for the decarbonization grid, which will increasingly depend on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, which are intermittent sources of power.

“Storage also allows us to consume most of our energy when renewables are plentiful and when grid congestion is low. We avoid using electricity during periods of peak demand that is powered by fossil fuel power plants,” Betts told CNBC.

“Summer peak demand is not only a problem because it causes outages, increases the cost of electricity and increases greenhouse gas emissions. It is also the cause of forest fires. When everyone uses electricity for air conditioning on the hottest days. a large amount of electricity flowing through transmission and distribution lines heats them up and makes them soft,” Betts said. “This increases the likelihood that they will come into contact with vegetation, leading to wildfires.”

Per Volo Land Venturesanother investor in the round announced on Thursday that storage capacity is also a key reason for the attractiveness of Blue Frontier’s solution.

“Blue Frontier technology is a game changer in both cooling decarburization and network efficiency.” Karim Dabbagh, co-founder of VoLo Earth Ventures“, the written statement said. “Their intersection of new refrigeration and energy storage technology opens up new opportunities to even out large daily peaks in cooling demand, saving money for consumers and utilities.”

Blue Frontier air conditioner prototype.

Photo courtesy of Blue Frontier.

Learning from past mistakes

Prior to launching Blue Frontier, Betts launched another air conditioner startup, Be Power Tech, which aimed to commercialize a technology that was both an air conditioner and a power source. The startup failed, and Betts realized that building a company on two technologies that had not yet been developed was too much.

“I made a cardinal tech startup mistake: I made two completely new technologies dependent on each other and combined them,” Betts told CNBC. “So double the risk, double the money required. And that’s why this company hasn’t been very successful.”

But he learned a lot about bringing a product to market that will be accepted and used.

“The idea was that we need to do something that doesn’t change how people interact with air conditioning in a building,” Betts said. “For the installer, builder, or building owner, it should be just replacing a conventional air conditioner with ours.”

Here’s what Betts and his team are trying to do.

They’re taking technology that’s been proven in prototypes tested at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory and scaling it up to primarily commercial buildings.

Some test units will be installed in buildings in 2022, and another batch of pre-commercial units is expected to be introduced into buildings in 2023, followed by the first commercial product for commercial buildings in 2025. And if all goes well, a residential product will hit the market by 2026 or 2027, Betts told CNBC.