Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spin-off and startup Transaera is developing technology to reduce the energy demands of air conditioning.

It is an important project as demand for air conditioners is expected to triple by 2050 which will have a devastating impact on greenhouse gas emissions.  Air conditioning is currently responsible for almost 20 per cent of electricity use in buildings around the world.

Transaera believes it has developed a machine that has one-fifth the climate impact of traditional air conditioners.

“The thing about air conditioning is the basic technology hasn't changed much since it was invented 100 years ago,” according to Transaera chief engineer Ross Bonner.

At the heart of Transaera’s design is a class of highly porous materials called metal organic frameworks, or MOFs, that passively pull moisture from the air as the machine works.

Startup co-founder Mircea Dincă, Professor of Energy in MIT’s Department of Chemistry, has done pioneering research on MOFs, and the company’s team members see the materials’ commercial advancement as an important part of their mission.

“MOFs have a lot of potential applications, but the thing that’s held them back is unit economics and the inability to make them in a cost-effective way at scale,” Bonner said. “What Transaera aims to do is be the first to commercialize MOFs at scale and lead the breakthrough that brings MOFs into the public domain.”

Dincă’s co-founders are Transaera CEO Sorin Grama, who is also a lecturer at MIT D-Lab, and CTO Matt Dorson, a mechanical engineer who worked with Grama on a previous startup.

MOF’s intriguing properties come from their large internal surface area and the ability to finely tune the size of the tiny chambers that run through them.

Dincă previously developed MOFs with chambers just big enough to trap water molecules from the air. He described them as “sponges on steroids.”

Most people think air conditioners only cool the air in a space, but they also dry the air they are cooling.

Traditional machines use an evaporator, a cold coil to pull water out of the air through condensation. The cold coil must be made much colder than the desired temperature in the room in order to collect moisture.

Pulling moisture out of the air takes up about half of the electricity used by traditional air conditioners.

Transaera’s MOFs passively collect moisture as air enters the system. The machine’s waste heat is then used to dry the MOF material for continuous reuse.

Transaera’s system also uses R-32 which has a global warming potential about three times lower than the most commonly used refrigerants.

The company’s foundational work with MOFs has continued even as Transaera’s air conditioner gets closer to commercialization.

Still, Transaera’s founders remain focused on bringing their AC to market first, acknowledging the problem they are trying to tackle is big enough to keep them busy for a while.

“It’s clear when you look at the swath of the world that’s in the hot, humid tropics, there’s a growing middle class, and one of the first thing they’ll want to buy is an air conditioner,” Dorson said. “Developing more efficient air conditioning systems is critical for the health of people and our planet’s environment.”

Transaera is a finalist in the Global Cooling Prize. The winner will be announced at the end of this month.



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