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The winners of the 2023 AHR Expo Innovation Awards have been announced and they include products that can be used in just about every sector of the HVACR industry. The International Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) hosts the annual contest, which identifies 10 different products and technologies that are recognized as being some of the industry’s newest and most innovative offerings.

Winners were selected by a panel of third-party ASHRAE member judges who evaluated each award entry based on the overall innovative design, creativity of the product or service offered, product or technology real-world application, and overall potential market impact. The winning companies will be featured at the AHR Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, in February 2023.

“We are thrilled to celebrate this year’s winners, as well as to continue to champion innovation among our industry professionals,” said Mark Stevens, show manager of the AHR Expo. “In the last few years, HVACR has taken on a wider audience outside of our direct industry stakeholders. It is refreshing to welcome an understanding of the value HVACR brings to the world in essentially every factor of daily life. Manufacturers on the AHR Expo show floor are challenged to continuously innovate and adapt as the built environment around us changes, and you’ll see them meeting this charge head-on in Atlanta.”


Building Automation: Cielo WiGle Inc.

Cielo Breez Max.

The Cielo Breez Max is a next-generation, smart air conditioning controller for ductless units. It offers a true smart thermostat-like experience for room air conditioners such as mini splits, window units, or portable air conditioners. It is equipped with an AI-based Comfy Max mode and an optimized auto remote control detection algorithm for universal compatibility with all ductless air conditioning systems.

“While other smart controllers by Cielo have a version of Comfy mode, the configuration requires detailed user input to maintain the room temperature as per their requirements,” said Anees Jarral, chief technical officer at Cielo WiGle Inc. “Thanks to Comfy Max mode, the inbuilt AI-based engine takes over this job, and Breez Max intelligently sets all parameters, providing a seamless experience to the users. Comfy Max helps customers save energy, reduce their electricity bills, and still provide an optimal environment as per their requirements.”

Cielo Breez Max can be used with any ductless air conditioner that comes with an IR remote control. It can be used in retrofit and new construction alike, allowing end users to connect their air conditioner to Wi-Fi and control their unit using their phone from anywhere. With geofencing, users can set location-based controls, such as allowing their air conditioner to switch off automatically as they leave their house. Breez Max can be used to set schedules for ductless air conditioners just like any smart thermostat is used for ducted systems.

“The Cielo Breez Max is super easy to use and installation is less than two minutes,” said Jarral. “With its auto-detection algorithm and a combination of IR transceivers, it can automatically detect an air conditioner brand and model. It gives every installer and contractor the opportunity to offer thermostat-like temperature control for ductless units to their customers in the easiest way possible.”

Cooling: Chemours

Opteon XL41 Refrigerant.

Opteon XL41 (R-454B) was developed to support the transition to lower-GWP refrigerants in residential and commercial air conditioning applications. With a GWP of 465.39 and performance characteristics similar to R-410A, manufacturers can quickly transition to Opteon XL41 in new systems because it requires minimal system redesign, which reduces time to market and research and development costs.

Opteon XL41 can be used in new equipment, including direct expansion (DX) chillers and air conditioning; window units and portable air conditioners; heat pumps; chillers; mini-split, multi-split, and ducted-split units; and packaged terminal air conditioners (PTACs). Contractors and other downstream stakeholders should have no problem using Opteon XL41, as it utilizes most of the same best practices and tools they have been using for years.

“Opteon XL41 is the lowest GWP and closest performance match replacement for R-410A in new systems that is commercially available on the market today,” said Brandon Marshall, marketing manager of the Americas, thermal and specialized solutions at Chemours. “It is a non-ozone-depleting refrigerant that offers a 77.7% reduction in GWP and represents a huge opportunity for equipment operators to reduce their potential scope 1 emissions.”

Many manufacturers have already selected Opteon XL41 to replace R-410A in their new air conditioning equipment, including Carrier, Johnson Controls, Mitsubishi Electric Hydronics & IT Cooling Systems, and Rheem Mfg. Co.

“Opteon XL41 offers manufacturers the ability to achieve their long-term CO2 emission reduction goals and requires minimal design modifications due to its similar operating temperature and pressure to R-410A,” said Marshall. “Opteon XL41 provides the optimal balance of performance, safety, and longevity for future air conditioning applications.”

Heating: Emerson

Copeland ZPSK7 Scroll Compressor.

The Copeland ZPSK7 scroll compressor is a product line of 1.5- to 5-ton, two-stage compressors that is designed for use in existing or new residential and light commercial HVAC applications. The scroll compressor provides affordable comfort and energy efficiency and is being applied across many applications, including heat pumps and split air conditioning, packaged systems, rooftops, and geothermal systems.

“Built on the award-winning ZPSK6 platform, Emerson’s ZPSK7 scroll compressor is the most efficient two-stage compressor developed in the 100-year history of the Copeland brand,” said Shane Angle, vice president of sales and technical service, HVACR technologies business for Emerson. “With the requirements of the 2023 Department of Energy efficiency regulation, the new compressor offers substantial efficiency gains at both part- and full-load operating conditions.”

The ZPSK7 compressors can operate at 100% capacity or as low as 65% capacity based on heating/cooling demand. When a partial load is needed, bypass ports inside the compression chamber open, which partially unload the compressor. This allows the compressor to achieve 65% capacity, thereby consuming less energy at light loads and avoiding costly stops and starts which use more energy. When demand increases, the modulation control valve is activated, sealing the bypass, and shifting capacity to 100%. Given the compressor runs at lower capacity without stopping, air flows continually over the coil and filter, yielding important benefits in humidity reduction and air quality.

“The Copeland two-stage platform stands apart from other compressors in their simplicity of design. They are self-contained (all components are internal), so there's less to be damaged in shipping or during system installation,” Angle said. “It's a packaged solution. The ease of the packaged solution carries over to the aftermarket when replacing or servicing the compressors, as they follow ‘drop-in’ replacement of their predecessor's platform.”

Indoor Air Quality: Belimo Americas

Belimo Room Sensors.

Belimo Room Sensors accurately measure temperature, humidity, dew point, and CO2 and can be individually configured via an app to ensure a comfortable and healthy room climate for end users. Designed primarily for commercial applications, the Room Sensors precisely detect air quality in real time and are available with or without an ePaper touch display to meet the application’s needs.

The ePaper touch display provides high contrast and intuitive operation, illustrating current room values with the ability to adjust setpoints. The tri-color LEDs indicate the CO2 concentration levels at a glance, and CO2 measurements are automatically adjusted based on altitude, making these room sensors more accurate under varying conditions. For devices without an integral ePaper display, setpoints can be programmed using the new Belimo Room Display app, which turns any smartphone into a remote display.

“These sensors target a market-specific pain point by providing an easy, straightforward way of configuring and commissioning devices through near field communication (NFC),” said Eddie Kelley, product manager of sensors and meters at Belimo. “Non-powered configuration allows customers to set these room sensors up before being installed in the field, eliminating technician frustration as the sensors can arrive on site fully configured and ready to communicate.”

Contractors can help their customers reduce waste and operational costs by utilizing the Room Sensors to implement energy-efficient measures, especially for spaces with variable occupancy, said Kelley. The Room Sensors are maintenance-free and provide long-term reliability for a comfortable room environment. Seamless integration with BACnet, Modbus, and MP-Bus enables communication directly to the BMS, saving on installation, cables, and terminal connections.

“Every sensor can be scanned quickly and easily to access data in real-time, without prior calibration, via the Belimo Assistant app and a smartphone,” said Kelley. “It also allows field adjustment, commissioning, and troubleshooting even without power.”

Plumbing: Caleffi Hydronic Solutions

Caleffi 536 Series PresCal HP Valve.

The 536 Series PresCal HP is a direct-acting, pressure-regulating valve (PRV) with true piston operation that ensures stable water pressure control while withstanding severe inlet pressure or punishing downstream water hammer. It’s ideal for staged pressure control or demanding applications that are subject to extreme pressure fluctuations.

As the controlling device between a building’s water main and its distribution piping, a PRV experiences pressure fluctuations on both downstream and upstream sides. These fluctuations can be of sufficient magnitude as to cause premature fatiguing and eventual failure of a PRV that has a rubber diaphragm, which is the industry standard. A piston-type PRV can withstand punishing applications better than a diaphragm type, said Kevin Freidt, director of product management and technical services at Caleffi North America Inc.

“The high-range PresCal HP model, with an adjustment range of 90 to 150 psi, is specifically designed to handle extremely high supply pressure or booster pump systems in high-rise buildings, where two-stage pressure reduction is needed,” he said. “The low-range models, with a range of 10 to 90 psi, are perfect for irrigation, commercial laundry, and dishwasher applications, where severe water hammer can cause premature failure of a diaphragm-type PRV.”

Service contractors who regularly replace failed PRVs in severe applications will appreciate the durability of the piston design. Engineers who design high-pressure plumbing systems can specify the high range PRV for two-stage pressure reduction without risk of cavitation noise and user complaints of noisy pipes after the project is complete, said Freidt.

“The dual union connections of the PresCal HP family are standard and convenient, thus simplifying installation and servicing to reduce contractor costs,” he said. “They also allow for different types of piping connections on the inlet and outlet. For example, the valve could have a press connection on the inlet and an NPT connection on the outlet, saving the cost of a separate pipe adapter. Both high- and low-range models have an easily removable and replaceable cartridge, which reduces the downtime to clean or maintain the valve.”

Refrigeration: Emerson

Copeland ZFW Scroll Compressor.

The Copeland ZFW variable-speed scroll solution is a line of brushless permanent magnet (BPM) motor-based scrolls paired with Copeland variable-frequency drives, EVM Series. Designed for use in low-temperature refrigeration applications — such as cascade systems and walk-in and reach-in freezers — the ZFW solution answers the call for more energy-efficient compression technology in the commercial refrigeration sector.

“Today, there are very few design options left to help OEMs achieve Energy Star certification or address future energy efficiency reductions mandated by the Department of Energy (DOE) on commercial refrigeration equipment,” said Joe Summers, senior product manager, scroll and drives at Emerson. “By integrating variable-speed technology in self-contained, reach-in coolers and freezers, display cases, and walk-ins, OEMs can significantly improve system energy efficiency and performance.”

The ZFW solution has double the capacity of a compressor of equal fixed speed displacement, while providing a 20% to 30% efficiency improvement in testing data. With vapor injection technology and a speed range of 1,000 to 7,000 rpm, it offers high levels of control while reducing cycling rates and greatly improving reliability.

“No other compressor manufacturer in the market currently offers a permanent magnet motor-based variable-speed solution with vapor injection, ready for traditional oil management systems, that is capable of achieving 7 HP of cooling,” said Summers. “The typical horsepower range for a compressor embodiment of this size would typically only operate between 3 to 4 HP at low-temperature conditions. Combining these performance enhancements with the ease of use and integration offered with Copeland EVM drives, Emerson offers a solution that is unique in the market.”

Available today with A1 refrigerants and moving toward A2L and R-290 approval by 2024, the platform offers a robust design option for complying with current and future commercial refrigeration regulations.

Software: cove.tool

Cove Load Modeling Tool.

The loadmodeling.tool is a full-featured load modeling and system design tool integrated with the cove.tool platform and made specifically for mechanical engineers. The tool uses the EnergyPlus engine for detailed, room-by-room load calculations and HVAC system sizing of commercial buildings.

The interfaces of loadmodeling.tool allow users to perform all daily tasks pertaining to creating and customizing a building load model, including sizing equipment, selecting equipment, calculating airflow rates, and more. The platform is under continuous development and will be adding whole building energy modeling and reporting in 2023.

“One of the most revolutionary aspects of the loadmodeling.tool is that it is web-based, which presents a new opportunity for mechanical engineers, as the majority of their tools are only available via desktop applications,” said Patrick Pease, PE, mechanical engineering director at cove.tool. “As a web-based platform, mechanical engineers can now access their work anywhere, including results, which removes the headache of moving large files around manually.”

The product is also designed so that multiple engineers can work simultaneously on the platform, which is a unique feature. This means multiple people can log into the project and work on various tasks at the same time, increasing team efficiency, and collaboration.

“Because of the improved user experience of loadmodeling.tool, it’s easier than ever for engineers to make and report on design progress,” said Pease. “The solution has functionality and workflows that inherently make sense for the end user. In addition, the support that cove.tool supplies for users is unrivaled. Operational and administrative challenges are eliminated, creating an ease of use that is not found with similar products. Because it is a web-based platform, it has a help chat feature right within the app to get questions answered quickly — a value add for customers.”

Sustainable Solutions: Taco Comfort Solutions

Taco System M Heat Pump.

The System M air-to-water heat pump is a non-fossil-fueled system that provides space heating and cooling, as well as domestic hot water production. It’s designed for homeowners who seek to reduce their carbon footprint, as it doesn’t create CO2.

“Taco Comfort Systems partnered with Glen Dimplex, a German-based manufacturer of intelligent electric heat pumps, to develop a radically innovative, packaged appliance with game-changing, paradigm-shifting potential,” said Mark Chaffee, vice president of governmental affairs and commercial and industrial product management at Taco Comfort Solutions. “Experts from both companies began development of a super-efficient technology that could provide year-round, hydronic home heating and cooling, and domestic hot water.”

The result is System M, which brings ultra-efficient European technology and capability to the U.S. With just six pipe connections, the heat pump offers up to 44,000 Btuh heating capacity and 3½ tons of cooling capacity, with an outdoor temperature range of -7°F to 113°F and a COP of over 4. It was also designed with ease of installation, and serviceability in mind, said Chaffee.

“There is enormous flexibility in how the system is installed and how the thermal energy is distributed: through radiant heating or cooling in the floors, walls, or ceilings; ducted hydro-air via fan coils or air handlers; and radiant panels or low-temp convectors/chilled beams. And, of course, domestic water heating,” he said.

The outdoor portion of the heat pump (monobloc) features advanced inverter technology, a variable-speed fan, and quiet operation. The indoor HydroBox unit contains an integrated buffer tank, simplified wiring hub, user interface with smartphone app control, and a high-efficiency, dual-ECM pump piping module. The appliance-like design provides turnkey functionality and reduces installation time by 50%, said Chaffee.

“System M is a hydronic appliance that’s uniquely, wonderfully capable,” he said. “The technology is solar PV and smart grid ready, designed specifically for a low-carbon society.”

Tools & Instruments: Navac

NEF6LM BreakFree Power Flare.

The NEF6LM BreakFree Power Flare is a battery-operated flaring tool that solves the problem of over- and under-flared connections at line set terminations, which can adversely affect new ductless equipment installations. This battery-operated tool has automated the traditional flaring process, largely removing and mitigating the risk of human error present on most tested flares.

Weighing less than three pounds, the power flaring tool produces precise, automatic flares in just 15 seconds. It can create flares in five sizes, ranging from ¼ to ¾ inches, and be fully charged in just 30 minutes.

The BreakFree Power Flare yields accurate, repeatable and consistent flares in a fraction of the time compared to traditional methods and tools and is equipped with a high-performance lithium-ion battery that performs over 100 flares per charge, said Andrew Greaves, director of customer experience at Navac Tools. In addition to one-button, one-handed operation, it features a battery life indicator and flashlight to illuminate flaring above drop-ceilings. Along with the sturdy blow-molded case, the tool includes a battery, charger, five commonly sized flare dies, and a premium flare gauge to double-check the work.

Ventilation: SmartD Technologies

Clean Power VFD.

The Clean Power VFD harnesses the high-efficiency and high-switching speed of Silicon Carbide (SiC) to generate a pure sine-wave electrical output signal, which removes problems typically associated with a pulse width modulation (PWM) signal generated by insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs).

“The Clean Power VFD addresses the main drawbacks that are usually associated with VFDs and the PWM signal they generate,” said Simon Leblond, CEO of SmartD Technologies. “By sending a clean signal to the motor, the motor runs cooler and more efficiently. Since there is no common mode voltage issue, long standard cables can be used, and there is no need for bulky external filters. By removing the need to select and size filters, the engineering of VFDs is greatly simplified.”

For contractors, the VFD becomes as simple to install as a contactor: three wires in, three wires out, said Leblond. Operators also benefit, as they get higher system efficiency and better reliability, as the VFD removes many causes of early motor failure.

With the Clean Power VFD, there is no overheating of the motor, so no risk of premature destruction of the insulation material and thus no need to use VFD-grade insulated motor. No common mode voltage, no generation of currents in the parasitic capacitances of the motor, and no bearing currents means no premature failures of the bearings.

Designed for commercial applications, the VFD can be used in new construction where filters would traditionally be installed with a VFD. In a retrofit scenario where there is no speed control, the VFD is compatible with standard cables and motors, so it can be dropped in place of a contactor without further retrofit.