March came in with a bang in much of the country. A major snowstorm blanketed the East Coast and the West Coast is receiving much-needed rain and snow, as well. But a Colorado company is receiving lots of attention these days for its innovative approach to air conditioning.
We spoke with Rick Gillan, president of Coolerado, a Arvada, Colo.-based maker of air conditioners that uses a patented technology to pull the heat out of summer air and send cool air into a building without the use of chemical refrigerants and, while consuming just a tenth of the electricity of a conventional AC unit – or no electricity at all, if powered by solar panels. (You can learn more about the technology specifications here.)
Triple Pundit: What are Coolerado’s roots? Where did the technology come from?
Rick Gillan: Valeriy Maisotsenko developed it. He was born in the Ukraine and fled the USSR in 1992 and came to the U.S. He had been researching the underlying technology for 35 years, during his academic career in Odessa. He knew there was a way to use evaporation and heat exchange to get lower temperatures. He discovered a new thermodynamic cycle, now called the Maisotsenko cycle. It’s all based on biomimicry – by studying nature and how systems cool themselves.
Maisotsenko partnered with Tim Heaton and then myself and my two brothers – we already had an engineering firm. The five of us founded Idalex, which is the R&D firm behind Coolerado. Idalex holds the dozen or so patents that Coolerado air conditioning is based on. We are also developing other ways to do heat transfer that we can use for improving efficiencies in both internal and external combustion engines. We could apply this to refrigeration systems, as well.
Triple Pundit: The Coolerado system cools air but does not dehumidify the air. This makes it suitable for use in the West, where humidity isn’t high, but in other parts of the country the system can’t compete with the humidity. Do you think it makes more sense to customize heating/cooling solutions to a region, rather than creating one solution for everyone?
Rick Gillan: The Western Cooling Efficiency Center have set out the Western Cooling Challenge, which asks manufactures to create more efficient cooling approach for the [climate in the] West. We created a commercial rooftop unit for that challenge.
You need to match your system to your climate, but the approach that the big manufacturers are taking is one size fits all.
Triple Pundit: So who is using the Coolerado?
Rick Gillan: About 60 to 70 percent are commercial properties. There are many used in Colorado and California. But they are used over the world, in Japan, Africa, South America – in fact we’re used on every continent except Antarctica. It’s used in Singapore, which is a very humid. But the customer isn’t using it there for comfort cooling. They are using it in an industrial setting and the goal is to just make the place tolerable, while saving a lot of money on energy.
Triple Pundit: How does the Coolerado system work with solar? Are any of your customers living off the grid and cooling their homes this way?
Rick Gillan: Yes and here’s why: For a 3,000 square-foot space, our units only draws 600 watts of power. That’s one-third the power that a hair dryer needs, and one-tenth the amount of power a traditional air conditioning system needs. A typical solar panel produces 200 watts at 72 degrees, but that output falls as the panels get hot. So you can use the warm air that is the byproduct of the Coolerado [the cooler air goes into the building to cool it] and use it to cool off the panels. They might be as hot as 150 degrees on a summer day, but the air from the Coolerado can bring them down to about 110 degrees, which will make them more efficient – enough to keep powering the Coolerado.
Triple Pundit: There has been so much emphasis on improving vehicular efficiency and on ways to better insulate homes and improve heating systems. Is cooling efficiency the next big green thing?
Rick Gillan: Air conditioning accounts for 50 percent of the summer peak power load in California. And I’ve heard that the California Energy Commission, which has concentrated on lighting and motor performance, is going to focus on AC next.