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Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and five leading building equipment industries will collaborate to improve the energy performance of heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems and investigate climate-friendly alternative refrigerants.

Through collaborative research and development agreements (CRADAs), scientists at the US Department of Energy's only designated national user facility for buildings research - the Building Technologies Research and Integration Centre at ORNL - will conduct research and development with the National Automatic Merchandising Association, Taylor Commercial Foodservice, Emerson Climate Technologies, Enginuity Power Systems and Baltimore Aircoil Company.

"CRADAs are among the US Department of Energy's chief instruments to connect the ingenuity of our national labs with industry's leading companies to produce innovations at the scale we need to make a difference," said David Nemtzow, building technologies office director, DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Improving the energy efficiency of buildings and equipment is a priority for DOE's Building Technologies Office (BTO) because the 127 million buildings in the United States consume nearly 40% of the nation's total energy at a cost of $415 billion annually, accounting for 36% of carbon emissions.

BTO's goal is to create marketable technologies and design approaches that address energy consumption in existing and new buildings to reduce the average energy use in all US buildings by 30% by 2030.

Moe Khaleel, associate laboratory director for Energy and Environmental Sciences at ORNL, said these collaborations are just the beginning.

"We anticipate a record number of industry partnerships over the next year to develop breakthroughs for energy-efficient buildings and a more secure, resilient power grid,” Khaleel said.

ORNL's BTRIC facility, established in 1993, has 40,000 square feet of laboratory space dedicated to early-stage research and development in building technologies, with the goal of improving the energy efficiency and environmental compatibility of residential and commercial buildings by focusing on building envelopes, equipment, building systems integration, energy storage and grid-interactive efficient buildings, sensors, transactive controls, and data modelling and simulation.

Assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy, Daniel R. Simmons, said the Oak Ridge National Laboratory excels at translating scientific discoveries into new technology partnerships with industry.

"These collaborations drive new innovations that address challenges and speed deployment of technologies into the marketplace where they will have the greatest impact in saving energy and boosting the American economy,” he said.

Vending machine project

The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) will evaluate environmentally friendly refrigerants for vending machines in North America, mitigating leak risks and assessing potential hazards including flammability.

NAMA executive vice president, Eric Dell, said NAMA and the NAMA Foundation are collaborating with researchers at ORNL because they have the recognized expertise needed to assist owners and operators of vending machine, equipment manufacturers and distributors throughout North America with the use and production of equipment that safely and efficiently uses next generation refrigerants.

Taylor Commercial Foodservice will collaborate on the development of climate-friendly refrigerants for food processing and dispensing machines in quick service restaurants and food retail. The company’s senior project engineer, Stephen Wadle, said more than three million refrigerated food/beverage processing, dispensing and vending machines in the US consume up to 70% of energy through the compressor.

“By working with ORNL, we will be able to develop environmentally friendly refrigerant solutions that meet domestic and international expectations,” Wadle said.

Vapor compression system

Emerson Climate Technologies will accelerate the development of next-generation architecture for advanced heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and dehumidification coupled with energy storage and integrated water heating through a vapor compression system that utilizes long-term, climate-friendly refrigerants.

Hung Pham, director of integrated technologies, Emerson Climate Technologies, said by collaborating with ORNL on advanced technologies for HVAC systems, they are developing a modular system with energy storage for grid-responsive capabilities.

"We'll be able to accomplish our objectives on an accelerated timeframe by working with the only user facility in the nation that has the technology and resources capable of developing this type of equipment,” Pham said.

Meanwhile, Enginuity Power Systems is developing a prototype of a commercially ready micro combined heat and power, or mCHP, device with an internal combustion engine fuelled by natural gas.

ORNL's BTRIC facility provides the knowledge needed in equipment modelling, design-for-manufacturing, equipment-grid interaction modelling, environmental chambers and heat exchanger testing loops as well as a fully equipped research house that emulates real life occupancy, according to Jacques Beaudry-Losique, president, Enginuity Power Systems.

"With this support, we will be able to launch the next generation of our mCHP device for large-scale commercialization,” he said.

Heat Exchanger technology

Baltimore Aircoil Company will work on advancing next-generation heat exchanger technology that can be deployed in an evaporator cooling system, reducing the size of the system and decreasing energy and water usage by 30%.

"This collaboration will help us expedite the production of a novel heat exchanger technology that can operate in wet and dry or hybrid conditions," said Michael Tenbrock, global technology R&D director, Baltimore Aircoil. "ORNL scientists will accelerate our understanding of emerging new materials and their potential for heat transfer applications."

Collaborations with the five industries are anticipated to conclude within two or three years of each project's implementation.

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