Tucked inside a small room in an industrial building just south of I-70 and west of Holly Street, three leaders from a clean tech company called Coolerado explained to Congresswoman Diana DeGette how they are turning the traditional air conditioning process upside down.
"What we offer is the most significant change to air conditioning in more than a hundred years," said Tim Heaton, vice president of the Denver-based air-conditioning company, which has been selling its product since 2004. "The technology and the science...hasn't changed in 120 years.... We offer a completely different science."
The company was explaining its technology to DeGette yesterday morning as part of an all-day clean tech energy tour the Denver congresswoman organized in support of the growing energy industry in Colorado.
Coolerado's air conditioners can be up to 90 percent more efficient than traditional cooling methods due to a key shift in how the firm's technology actually changes the temperature in a room, which the team demonstrated for DeGette during a visit to the business' 10,000-square-foot facility.
The process the company has developed is called "displacement cooling," which basically means its air conditioners use only fresh air to cool a room instead of the standard (and less-efficient) process of recycling indoor air to lower the air temperature.
"We give you a healthier environment, at a lower cost, with less energy," Heaton told DeGette.
Here's how it works. As air temperature rises during the day, traditional air conditioners use chemical refrigerants and compressors to cool recycled indoor air and then force it throughout the space. The Coolerado process instead takes advantage of the natural phenomenon of cool air sinking and warm air rising. This displacement cooling method pushes the cool, fresh air into a space close to the floor, and then collects the warm air that rises at the ceiling level and pushes it out of the space.
In other words, the air conditioners just reject heat and bring in air from the outside for cooling.
This technology, which is patented, can cost around 15 percent higher upfront than standard cooling systems, but major payoffs occur after five years or sometimes as early as two years, Coolerado President Tom Teynor said.
"The low-hanging fruit is really energy efficiency," DeGette told the Coolerado leaders during her visit. "We spend a lot of time talking about how are we gonna capture carbon...but in fact if we can really promote energy efficiency, that would help."
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Page down to see learn more about the tour and see more photos. Later in the afternoon, Westword also shadowed DeGette for a tour of RavenBrick on Lawrence Street in Denver, which has developed adaptive smart-window technology. These materials reflect the sun's heat outside when it's hot or lets the sunshine in when it's cool, which can save up to 30 percent on heating and cooling year-round.
"The window has now sensed that it's too hot outside," RavenBrick CEO Alex Burney told DeGette as he blew hot air from a hairdryer onto a piece of the company's special window material, causing it to become tinted. "It's now rejecting a lot of that solar heat gain. So you're a lot more comfortable inside." Yesterday, the company also announced new technology it has developed for a wall material that stores energy during the day, and releases the harnessed energy into the building at night when it cools off. "Everyday I hear about new clean energy companies in my district," DeGette, who is a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, told Westword. She said she made Wednesday an energy day to highlight the diversity of the clean energy industry and, you know, the thing politicians love to talk about -- jobs!
"When people think about clean energy, they think about wind turbines or solar panels, but they dont think about all of the associated industries that go along with a clean energy environment," she said, adding, "If we had good federal energy policies, we could support even more of these businesses."
More from our Environment archive: "Colorado's warming trend since 1970: A new look at a 40-year heat wave"