EAST LANSING, Mich. - A Michigan State University researcher and a colleague have won the Boston Innovation Prize for the design of a low-cost, energy-efficient method of cooling and dehumidifying residential and small commercial spaces.
assistant professor in Michigan State University’s Department of Mechanical
Engineering, and John Barrie, of the Appropriate Technology Collaborative in
Ann Arbor, Mich., collaborated on the award-winning project.
“The technology used
for this air conditioner is radically different,” MÏ‹ller said. “We are using
the most natural refrigerant, water.”
MÏ‹ller said the
project is part of a broader context of his research to reduce energy
consumption and that the award is an acknowledgement of the progress that has
The Innovation Prize
was developed by the Barr Foundation, a private family foundation committed to
enhancing the quality of life for citizens in the Boston area, and the
Cambridge Energy Alliance (CES), an organization that seeks to reduce the
carbon footprint of Cambridge, Mass., in the next five years.
MÏ‹ller and Barrie were
awarded $30,000 for the cooling technology they submitted as part of the
contest. It was one of 38 submissions reviewed by a panel of national experts.
“We looked at a number
of impressive designs, but this one really stood out because of its potential
to consume significantly less energy and reduce peak demand compared to
standard air conditioners,” said Kendra Tupper, a member of the panel of judges
and a senior consultant at the Rocky Mountain Institute.
The air conditioner
uses water vapor as the refrigerant. When water vapor is used this way it is
referred to as R-718. Water vapor can be more efficient than traditional
refrigerants, but engineering the compressor is difficult and expensive, MÏ‹ller
“In Europe where there
are high energy costs, water vapor is used as a refrigerant in large projects,”
MÏ‹ller said. “The economics of making a smaller scale R-718 compressor have, in
the past, proven to be prohibitive.”
MÏ‹ller invented a way
to make an economical compressor that is small and lightweight by designing a
novel turbo compressor woven out of high-strength fibers with an integrated
“It gives wonderful
control. It’s efficient and compact,” said MÏ‹ller, who points out that up to 30
percent of U.S. electricity is used for cooling and air conditioning. “Another
plus for the new R-718 technology is that by experience it is surprisingly
Barrie is an architect
and industrial designer. He and MÏ‹ller have teamed up for other grant
“I work to develop and
promote innovative sustainable technologies,” said Barrie. “My contribution to
this project is as a consultant on how air conditioning functions in the real
MÏ‹ller and Barrie want
to develop prototypes of the air conditioner as additional funding for
development becomes available.