Minding Your Business: 5 Energy-Saving Industrial Cooling and Heating Methods

March 13, 2014

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A productive factory and plant floor rely on effective heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning. There have been recent advances in technologies that better regulate the distribution of heating and cooling as well as the energy that feeds the HVAC system.

HVAC systems, containing any component of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (AC), control the flow of air in a space to keep occupants comfortable by regulating the air temperature and humidity. In many places, these systems are also used to render an environment unfriendly to mold and mildew and to further filter out any other biological irritants that may be present. Any place where a safe and healthy building condition must be regulated with respect to temperature, humidity, and cleanliness requires a proper HVAC system.

Following are five technologies that have recently become available to increase the efficiency and cost savings in HVAC systems.

Smart Thermostats Programmable thermostats raise and lower target temperature zones based on user-programmed profiles, but in the last two to three years, the programmable thermostat has entered the "Internet of things" and has become part of "the cloud."

Thermostats can be directly linked to the Wi-Fi network (and through that to the Internet and then to remote mobile apps on phones, tablets, and computers). These thermostats can use sensors, algorithms, and cloud computing technologies so that, over time, they begin to "learn" the owner's habits.

They can also be integrated with online weather sources and calendar apps. By doing this, they can determine when the owner might alter the schedule, and if the weather is changing, adjust the environment accordingly.

The current trend is moving towards thermostats that can control multiple energy sources, with full knowledge of the owner’s schedules and habits. These thermostats will make sure the building is comfortable when it is occupied and more energy efficient when it is not occupied. They can also choose the most effective manner in their programmable profiles to reach these targets.

Solar Heating Along with new high-tech control of the temperature and humidity in a space come advances in technologies in sources of heating or cooling. Besides fuel for burning (gas, oil, wood, etc) and electricity, heat/cooling sources are being harnessed from both the sun and deep in the earth.

Solar heating is now being used to collect thermal energy from the sun during the day and store it as both electrical energy (batteries) and thermal energy (molten salts). Besides the more conventional use of solar panels to generate electricity from the absorption of high-frequency radiation, the heat of the lower end (infrared) of the energy spectrum can be collected and stored for use, as well.

Available now are systems that absorb infrared radiation and store it within canisters of molten salts, similar to how a battery stores electricity. These canisters can then be used to power HVAC systems when the sun is not available.

Geothermal Heating and Ice-Powered Air-Conditioning Another source of heating is through geothermal heat pumps. These systems are dug deep below the surface -- far underneath the levels in the earth that vary in temperature seasonally. Pipes are filled with antifreeze, sealed, and then connected through geothermal pumps to basements and/or attics. For heating, the flow of the pipes is used to bring heat up from the earth; for cooling, the process is reversed with a flip of a switch.

Another hybrid process, specific to cooling, is through ice-powered air-conditioners. This process creates ice at night, taking advantage of low energy costs and cooler temperatures. Then, during the day, the ice cools the refrigerant as it passes through the tank, lowering the temperature inside and reducing the needs for additional cooling of the system.

Hybrid Water Heating

Another large expenditure in a factory is the heating of water. In this respect, there have been recent advancements in the technologies used to both heat water and store it more efficiently. The federal Energy Star program continues to move these technologies forward, by pushing for energy savings of as much as $360 or more over the 10- to 15-year life spans of the heating systems.

One way to achieve such energy savings is the use of hybrid water heaters. These water heaters combine newer technologies with traditional electricity and gas to heat water.

  • National Laboratories and the Energy Department are working in the development of CO2 heat pumps and improved temperature controls. These are more efficient and environmentally friendly than what is currently on the market.
  • Improved temperature controls for tank-less water heaters are currently being developed. These are similar to the new cloud-based programmable thermostats regulating temperatures based on time of day and expected usage.
  • The GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater is part heat pump and part conventional storage water heater. It uses 63 percent less energy than a standard 50-gallon electric tank, saving about $300 a year.
HVAC is a key element of effective, productive medium-size and large industrial buildings. In large spaces, such as factory floors or warehouses, the energy consumption of the HVAC system will be a major part of the cost of running the facility. With this in mind, it is vital that the HVAC system be designed properly to match the space, in both size and power.

Many people believe it might be a good choice to minimize the up-front cost of purchasing and installing the HVAC system with the cost of running the system over its lifetime. However, the cost savings that might be gained from installing an improperly sized HVAC system will be greatly overshadowed by the additional costs and frustration that this improper system might create.

An undersized HVAC system might cost less, but it will have to work harder to reach and maintain the desired environment. This system will more than likely not be able to achieve the proper environment control while breaking down more often and having to be replaced prematurely versus a properly sized system.

On the other hand, an oversized/powered furnace will cause wide swings in temperature as it heats up too slowly and cools down too fast. An oversized AC system will also create problems by not properly dehumidify the air. In order to determine the proper system specs, companies are advised to hire an HVAC expert to assist in the selection and installation of the technology for the environment to be controlled.

Sam Pelonis is president of Pelonis Technologies, a leading manufacturer of axial AC and brushless DC fans and motors specializing in high technology and original equipment manufacturing (OEM) solutions, based in Exton, Penn. With over 25 years of product development and manufacturing experience, Pelonis Technologies' customers come from a variety of sectors, including medical equipment, aerospace and defense, heating and air-conditioning, automotive, and appliances.

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