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Today’s energy conservation tip June 18, 2007

Posted by fukumimi in Energy, technology.
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A group led by researchers at AIST (the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology) have found that adding hair conditioner to the water used in water circulating air conditioning systems (as commonly found in office buildings and the like), can dramatically reduce energy consumption used to circulate water in the system. OK, the boffins at AIST didn’t really put hair conditioner in the water, rather just a surfactant mix. But as this Asahi article points out, surfactants are a main functional ingredient of hair conditioner.
The test was performed using Sapporo City Hall, a 19 floor building (+2 underground floors) which has an air conditioning system with a 37kW rated output pump which circulates 32 tonnes of water through the air conditioning unit.

The energy savings found appear impressive. The AIST team calculated that by adding just 0.5wt% (ok, that is still about 150kg…) of generic surfactant into the water, the pump could be driven at 30% reduced speed, which translates into a power reduction of around 65%. For the Sapporo City Hall, this translates to a potential annual reduction of the electricity bill by JPY630,000, and a reduction in CO2 of 32 tonnes/yr.

This kind of fairly low tech solution is all the more attractive because it is potentially so easy to replicate on a massive scale.  I wonder how many buildings have air conditioning units which might be able to accomodate modifications to take advantage of this research?

Here in Japan, energy consumption peaks during hot summer days, when air conditioners are on full blast in all those office buildings. If this research can be applied on a wide scale, a significant reduction in electricity consumption due to air conditioning units can be achieved. This has the additional benefit of specifically reducing peak load electricity consumption, most of which is generated by fossil fuel burning power stations. All electricity is not created equal, peak load electricity has a higher carbon footprint than base load power a significant proportion of which is drawn from nuclear capacity.

There is also an economical argument for reducing peak load consumption for building owners and tenants too, as commercial electricity unit costs are determined using a formula which incorporates peak load consumption.

(There are potential issues about discharging surfactant loaded water during maintenance of course, but I suspect that the problems are addressable….)

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