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Coolerado Cooling: A High Efficiency AC System for Commericial and Residential Buildings

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Thursday March 5th, 2009 | 14 Comments

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.

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  • Jen Boynton

    MC- tell us about your experience talking with these guys! When I saw the press release I was a bit dubious about their claims because they make some pretty substantial ones about their sustainability– are you a believer?

  • Steve McGee

    FYI EcoGeek has a story titled Solar Air Conditioner Is Too Good To Be True: http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/2604/ about the Coolerado today. Apparently it sucks 4 gallons of water an hour! Not so sustainable after all.

  • mcoc

    Steve: Yes, the Coolerado uses a lot of water, and I talked to Rick about this. His stance was that once you consider the water consumed in the generation of electrical power, the amount of water that a Coolerado AC unit consumes is about equal to that used in a conventional AC system. Certainly this claim will be debated. That said, it seems like in places where water quantity is good, this should not pose a major hurdle and still makes the Coolerado a better option to a conventional AC with high electricity consumption and chemical coolants, no? Plus the water can be reused immediately– such as for cooling solar panels or, as a commenter on the Eco Geek piece noted, taking a warm shower.
    EcoGeek accuses the company of greenwashing and I personally think that’s overly harsh, but do think Coolerado should address the issue more directly.
    Cooling air is going to consume resources. The question is: what’s the best way to consume the fewest resources and the resources most appropriate to your bioregion. As was pointed out in the Q/A above, this system is not appropriate for all climates. It’s not a miracle technology, but it seems like a move in the right direction. (Maybe the best solution to heat is to sit under a shady tree or take a dip in a lake. But that’s not going to work for someone stuck in a cubicle all day.)

  • cubbie

    We’ve got drought in CA– one of their biggest states. Energy can be made cleaner, but water is much more difficult to re-use. I call baloney!

  • Nick Aster

    Nice coverage. This is obviously a more energy efficiency device that’s a totally legit improvement over standard AC and probably saves a lot of money. If you want to tout it as green, that really doesn’t bother me too much regardless of the water use. Obviously the issus of water is geographically dependent. In Arizona this thing might be a problem. Elsewhere not so much. It’s pretty contextual. Maybe it can run on greywater?

  • Yai Haussen

    What’s the difference between this thing and a standard swamp cooler?

  • http://www.coolerado.com Rick Gillan

    Thank you for a nice interview and write up Ms. O’Connor.
    It’s unfortunate that EcoGeek posted a blog before doing some basic homework, but the commenters are honing in on getting the facts right. It is an interesting process to watch.
    Most people don’t realize how much water is used for power production. The Department of Energy studied available at http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy04osti/33905.pdf concluded that on average it takes about 2 gallons of water to produce 1,000 watt-hours of electricity. So, a Coolerado system drawing 600 watts of power will use about 2 gallons of water per hour at the power plant, and about 4 gallons of water at the air conditioner – about 6 gallons per hour from a regional point of view.
    A comparable traditional air conditioner will draw over 6,000 watts of power, but won’t use any water at the air conditioner. However, the power plant will be using over 12 gallons of water per hour – almost twice as much water compared to the Coolerado.
    Coolerado is very conservative with our claims, so we say we are “Net Water Neutral” and don’t claim to use less water. We do claim to use 1/8th to 1/10th the amount of power, which clearly means a huge savings in pollution and natural resources.
    The excess water can be used for things like landscaping (I use the excess water on my unit for my raspberries), but the water is not warm and would involve a lot more hardware to use it to take a shower.
    Hope this helps! Thanks again. Rick

  • http://www.coolerado.com Rick Gillan

    Let me try to give you a short answer Yai,
    A direct evaporative cooler blows large quantities of air that has a lot of moisture added to it. A large quantity of air is required because the occupants need to be able to feel the air move across their skin in order to be comfortable with all the added moisture. Swamp coolers get their name from all the added moisture plus the swamp smell they add to the building – the smell is caused by mold and other biologicals.
    Coolerado air conditioners cool to lower temperatures than a swamp cooler can cool to, and do so without adding any moisture to the air that enters the building. This means that you don’t need to be able to feel the air move across your skin to be comfortable, and traditional air conditioning sized ducts can be used for Coolerado as well. All the air that enters the building is also filtered. People with Coolerado systems report that it is more comfortable than anything they have experienced before – it’s like being outside on a real comfortable day.
    Thanks. Rick Gillan

  • Jen Boynton

    Thanks for chiming in, Rick! It sounds like your system includes some reclamation features for the water it uses. Can you shed some light on how that works? In my mind, the way the water is used after it goes through the system makes a HUGE difference in whether the product is an improvement over the air conditioner from a sustainability standpoint.
    As for Nick’s comment, I don’t see as much difference between AZ and CA as he does– we’ve both got drought issues.

  • Nick Aster

    California has a current drought, but AZ is a true desert with waaaay less water than California – especially northern Cal, so there’s a big difference, I think. Plus its blazingly hot in AZ, and most of California is quite temperate making the demand for AC much less.

  • Jen Boynton

    You’ve spent too much time in the Bay Area if you think most of CA is temperate :P. All of SoCal is a desert– just about as big as AZ.

  • http://www.thepumablog.com Steve Puma

    It seems to me that if the water can be reused for other purposes, such as taking a shower, then there is little to worry about, as long as this product is used as part of a whole-systems approach to energy efficiency and water use. It’s not only about how much resources this product uses, but how it is implemented in the system as a whole, and how many resources the system uses. Overall, it seems like a good step forward.

  • Nick Aster

    Granted the parts of LA that are sprawling into the Mojave are every bit as hot and dry as Phoenix. But most of SoCal is semi-desert, at least LA is, and it’s nowhere near as hot as Phoenix.

  • http://www.halbright.com Rudi Halbright

    This sounds like a swamp, or evaporative cooler. This technology predates air conditioners and uses less power and can work quite effectively in desert climates. Given that it will operate by putting water vapor into the air, I don’t see how a significant amount of that could be reclaimed.
    In short, this will use up a lot of precious water, and will work most effectively where water is most scarce!

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