As the earth warms, people living in the tropics and sub-tropics, home to 36% of the world’s population, will demand access to cooling to bear the heat and humidity.
Heatwaves kill more than 10,000 yearly; this number is only expected to grow as temperature rises.
The World Health Organization estimates that, by 2050, more than 255,000 people could be killed annually from extreme heat waves, leaving the most vulnerable at high risk (Lalit & Kalanki, 2019).
Air conditioning systems are an effective way to prevent deaths caused by extreme heat stress. But using air conditioners for cooling also contributes to climate change and is terrible for the environment.
Most cooling systems use refrigerants like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These chemicals are potent heat-trapping gasses and deplete the ozone layer. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050, the number of air conditioners worldwide will reach 4.5billion (Lalit & Kalanki, 2019).
A little leak from a single air conditioning unit multiplied by billions of units across the world can devastate the climate (Irfan, 2022).
So how can we cool ourselves without warming the planet?
Eliminating air conditioning systems to address climate change is out of the question, especially for countries like India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, and other countries already living in dangerous heat and humidity levels and have fast-growing economies. The challenge is finding an environmentally friendly air conditioning alternative.
To accelerate the development of climate-friendly airconditioning units, the Indian Department of Science and Technology, together with its partners, launched a competition in 2018, The Global Cooling Prize. The competition will award $1 million to design a room air conditioner that produces five times less greenhouse gas throughout its lifetime than a standard room unit. The Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that employing such technology could prevent up to 100 gigatons of CO2-equivalent emissions by 2050 (Underwood, 2021).
The innovators have encountered a dilemma while meeting the contest criteria. Do they focus on finding climate-friendliest refrigerants or reducing energy use?
The article “How to Prevent Air Conditioners from Heating the Planet” says that most of the eight finalists have found a balance by combining climate-friendlier refrigerants with efficiency-boosting hacks such as intelligent controls and solar panels.
But others have opted for a third possibility – ditching HCFs altogether and replacing them with solid refrigerants made from organic crystals, which are cheap and nontoxic, and also release and absorb heat under pressure as they change the volume (Underwood, 2021).
The Air Disc Cooling System
But what if another air conditioning design does not use refrigerants or coolants and consumes less energy to run?
The Air Disc cooling system foregoes chemical refrigerants. Instead, the system “uses free, abundant, earth-friendly air molecules in combination with atmospheric moisture as refrigerant of a revolutionary new innovative cooling system that has minimal use of energy to mitigate global warming” (AirDisc Cooling, 2022).
Maria Yzabell Angel Palma from the Philippines invented the Air Disc cooling system.
Using an innovative centrifugal c-compressor that is unlike a rotary or piston-type compressor with high energy consumption, the system consumes 10% less energy.
During the interview with CNN Philippines, Palma said that the AirDisc only consumes 150 watts compared to the 1,200 to 1,500 watts of prevailing air conditioners in the market, saving consumers 90% in electricity bills (Making airconditioning, 2022).
And because it does away with heat-trapping refrigerants while using only air as a cooling medium, the technology does not contribute to the climate crisis, Palma says.
Palma accidentally discovered this game-changing technology while working on a piece of eco-friendly cooking equipment for her high school project at the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) Bicol campus. She was 19-year-old at that time.
During a test run, she discovered that cold air was coming out at the end of the copper tube, resembling the cold air coming out of an A/C unit. She then decided to develop the cold air technology, which she said was easier for her to control than pursuing her original project of making an “airwave oven”.
Palma also emphasised that the AirDisc technology does not use refrigerants, which is a big win for the environment. She said every kilogram of chemical refrigerant sends 20,000 kgs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
It took her two years to develop the AirDisc technology, which Palma hoped would be her contribution to cooling the world without contributing to climate change.
Palma’s invention gained awards and recognition both in the Philippines and abroad, one of which is the James Dyson Award.
She intended to mass-produce the AirDisc in 2020, but the pandemic delayed her plans. She is set to launch her project with her business partners in 2023 with plans to expand its application to transport or car air conditioning.
Watch Palma’s full interview below:
Lalit, R. & Kalanki, A. (2019, May 15). How India is solving its cooling challenge. World Economic Forum. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/india-heat-cooling-challenge-temperature-air-conditioning
Irfan, U. (2022, May 18). The air conditioning paradox. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/23067049/heat-wave-air-conditioning-cooling-india-climate-change
Underwood, E. (2021, June 23). How to Prevent Air Conditioners from Heating the Planet. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-prevent-air-conditioners-from-heating-the-planet/
Making airconditioning more eco-friendly, The Final Word. (2022, April 23). CNN Philippines. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FaLN54JjaU
AirDisc Cooling Technologies Cooling System. (2022). The James Dyson Award. Retrieved from https://www.jamesdysonaward.org/en-PH/2019/project/airdisc-cooling-technologies-cooling-system/
Airdisc technology: centrifugal compression and decompression for cooling. Google Patents. Retrieved from https://patents.google.com/patent/WO2019229533A3/en