Sure, seawater air-conditioning is a cool, green idea for hot climates. But is there an eco-alternative for residents of hot, land-locked states? Not to fear: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is hard at work on an energy-efficient solution.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently announced that it has invented a new air conditioning process with the potential to use 50-90% less energy than today’s top-of-the-line units, using membranes, evaporative cooling and liquid desiccants in a way that has apparently never been attempted before. The device, known as the DEVap, combines the low-cost factor of an evaporative cooler–which work well in dry climates that don’t get too hot, like Denver, but not so well in places like Phoenix or Miami–with the power of refrigeration-based cooling, which actually removes moisture from the air. The DEVap relies on the desiccants’ capacity to create dry air using heat and evaporative coolers’ capacity to take dry air and make cold air.

image via NREL

The device doesn’t rely on an energy-intensive refrigeration cycle the way most AC units do, replacing it with an absorption cycle that is thermally activated; because it uses so little electricity, the DEVap can be powered by natural gas or solar energy. Researchers expect that over the next couple of years they will be working on making the device smaller and simpler and perfecting the heat transfer mechanism in the interests of making the DEVap cost effective for the commercial market.

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