Air Conditioning History and Modern Tech
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Originally Posted On: https://ed.ted.com/on/PQXCkHPf#digdeeper
Air conditioning is an essential part of any modern building with the aim of providing a comfortable environment for both physical and mental wellbeing. A cold blast of air can have an immediate soothing effect on the body which is why air conditioning has become so popular over recent years.
The first documented attempt at harnessing cooling was done by Ancient Egyptian engineers when they tried to use wind towers to draw cool air from the Nile to power their grain mills. This idea proved unsuccessful since all they managed to do was bring up hot, dry desert air; thus making this an impractical source of cooling.
Air conditioning however came around much later when in 1902 Willis Carrier designed the first modern day AC system which consisted of a compressor that drew in warm air and a condenser that turned the hot air into water and an evaporator which transferred the heat to another area.
However, due to its size and cost, this system was only used in large commercial buildings such as theatres and manufacturing facilities; thus making AC almost non-existent to homes until 1939 when engineer Alfred Wolff designed a window unit that was affordable to the public.
In 1959, engineer James Toner designed the first refrigerant which used chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as its working fluid; however this type of refrigerant proved fatal for the environment when in 1970 scientists discovered the ozone layer above Antarctica was diminishing at an alarming rate and this type of refrigerant was found to be the cause.
In 1979 a new type of refrigerant called hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) was developed which worked as a replacement, but still proved harmful to the environment. In 1990, engineer Jörg Bendix installed his own HCFC-22 machine that used a mixture of water and methanol. This proved to be a solution because the evaporation process heated up the environmental solvent, which then could be used as a low-cost ground source heat pump. It also had a cooling effect on the atmosphere by releasing CO2 into its highest level of performance instead of using harmful refrigerants.
Modern day air conditioning units use what is called a heat-pump system. It is an electrical machine that absorbs heat from the surrounding air and moves it indoors to where you are trying to cool down. The electrical energy required for the function of the compressor, condenser, evaporator, fans, ducts and other parts is commonly attained by using a heat engine powered by a gas, such as Freon.
The heat-pump system has been around for decades and hasn’t significantly improved much in that time. It is also expensive to operate on an annual scale – costing consumers more each year – and it’s simply not efficient enough to use on a large scale basis.Innovation within this market has been somewhat stagnant, but a new design for a heat-pump system may change the way we cool our homes and businesses.
This is a potentially disruptive technology that can reduce electricity demand substantially – perhaps by as much as 30 to 50 percent in some regions – while simultaneously cutting emissions of greenhouse gases.
In places such as Dubai, air conditioning units are a necessity. They keep the temperature inside buildings at a comfortable level, without which occupants would have to deal with blistering heat and sweat all day! As you’d expect from a first world nation such as the UAE, many of these units are very advanced and amongst the best units in the world.