Solar heating and air conditioning system 'cuts carbon emissions and reduces cost'

The blueprint for a new system that can provide homes with both space heating and air conditioning from a low-cost thermal energy source has been unveiled by the new product development team at Industrial Design Consultancy (IDC).

The system is powered from solar thermal panels and uses jet-pump technology to deliver cooling during sunny periods. The company and its partners are now seeking investors to turn the prototype into a commercially available product which it claims can save the average consumer over £650 per year in energy bills, and cut annual carbon output by 2tonnes.

IDC has created the design and technology for a new cooling system that replaces the electrically powered compressor found in traditional cooling circuits with a thermally powered jet-pump. Product designers, engineers and model-makers worked together to build and test both air-conditioning and refrigeration prototypes. With the theory proven, the company now has plans to implement the technology into a combined heating and cooling unit for domestic and commercial use.

Based on research and testing, the proposed unit will be capable of delivering 4.5kW cooling during summer months and up to 4kW of space heating during colder periods. In addition, the solar thermal energy can be used all year round to provide or augment existing hot water systems.

"Although solar powered cooling technologies have been developed in the past, the simplicity of the jet-pump system will allow us to realise these products at a price that makes the technology accessible to a wide-range of customers," said Ryan Fenton, lead design engineer.

The jet-pump was invented at the start of the 20th century to remove air from steam engine condensers, but has been relatively untouched since. IDC has re-envisioned the technology by applying it to a more sustainable design for the future.

The jet-pump replaces the compressor, traditionally used in vapour compression refrigeration systems. Thermal energy is used to generate a supply of high pressure vapour. This vapour is used to power the jet-pump, which creates suction in the evaporator causing the refrigerant to evaporate and thereby generating a cooling effect.

Stephen Knowles, managing director of IDC, said: "The changing climate is bringing with it a significant challenge for sustainable heating and cooling systems. This is a potential first for the market and an exciting prospect for new build housing and office development, as well as a great way to make existing buildings much more efficient, cost-saving and environmentally friendly. The development cost for this is extremely competitive and provides an optimised solution to the solar cooling challenge. It offers green-thinking consumers a significant return on investment compared to other solar systems, and lends itself to modular construction to meet larger scale cooling duties too."

According to Knowles, the results from operational tests of the prototypes were 'impressive', and the system is now said to run autonomously, generating reliable cooling performance over extended periods. Further improvements are being considered for the next iteration that will increase the efficiency of the system and extend the duration of use.

Findings also indicated that the system could be highly beneficial when used in a more wholesale or industrial context as a large scale refrigerator for hotels, supermarkets or medical purposes such as storing vaccines.

Extensive research and development has been conducted by IDC in partnership with UK based solar panel manufacturer, Sertec Energy and renewable energy specialists Energy International Systems. Grants from the UK government funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme and EU collaborative research programme have also assisted in bringing the technology to the current position.

Chris Shaw

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