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Innovation could change the way we cool off

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Innovation could change the way we cool off
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We depend on them to keep us cool on hot days, but new research shows air conditioners are one of the biggest contributors to carbon in the atmosphere. Now one company has developed a new system that cuts out the toxic coolant. Tamara Lindstrom tells us how.

ITHACA, N.Y. -- It's a technology used every day and yet it hasn't changed much since it was invented in New York more than a century ago.

"In order to accomplish air conditioning, you need to do two things. You need to cool the air, but then you have to dehumidify it. If you don't, you feel like you're in a clammy basement," said Crista Shopis, president and Co-founder of Synairco. "The dehumidification part is what's difficult."

Difficult because in order to pull moisture from the air, it has to be cooled to 45 degrees. That's what a standard A/C unit does, using refrigerant and a compressor. But a new invention has changed that crucial temperature.

"We play with the properties of air inside our air conditioner so that we can dehumidify air by passing it over a 60 degree coil," Shopis said.

Ithaca company Synairco is developing the revolutionary system, invented by Ian Shapiro, that cuts out the carbon-causing chemicals.

"With 60 degrees, we can get 60 degree water straight from the ground," Shopis said. "So we don't need a compressor and we don't need that refrigerant. If we can eliminate the refrigerants in air conditioning equipment, we can take a serious chunk out of carbon in the atmosphere."

Instead, food grade liquid glycol is sent underground in a closed-circuit geothermal well, naturally cooled off by the earth.

"And then it comes back up and gets heated up and then goes back down into the ground. So it's just a closed loop that cycles," Shopis said.

But it is an investment. The initial set up costs about twice that of current air conditioners, but the system uses half the electricity and will last twice as long.

"Our unit actually is extremely simple. It only has two moving parts inside of it. So whereas a typical air conditioner lifetime is about 15 to 20 years, we think that ours will be more like 30 years," Schopis said.

And the effects could be lasting, with recent figures attributing much of the carbon is our atmosphere to the coolants in air conditioners.

"This was just one way to try to make a dent in those numbers and reach some kind of goals that can make a change in the world," Shopis said.

Keeping people cool without heating the planet.

Synairco is still testing and developing the system, but it should be commercially available in about a year.

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