Satellite Engineers Create Emissions-Free Air Conditioning

June 20, 2016 | Comments

In what is easily the coolest engineering design of the week, four engineers with experience at Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France have used their satellite expertise to develop an air conditioning system that does not emit any greenhouse gases.


Prototype of Helioclim technology, installed at Mandelieu-la-Napoule near Cannes in France. (Image courtesy of Helioclim.)

Satellites use solar thermal energy to regulate their internal temperature, which inspired the team to use a similar technology to create Helioclim, a solar heating and cooling system that can be used closer to home.

“Building a spacecraft is unusually complex,” said Marie Ngheim, one of the four engineers who worked on the project. “It must function perfectly for 15 years, so our standards have to be extremely high.” The team has experience working with multiple satellites, including the European Space Agency’s GOCE gravity-mapper and the Jason ocean-monitoring satellites from NASA/ESA.


Thermal Heating and Cooling from the Sun

Unlike the typical flat roof panels, this system uses curved solar mirror-troughs to concentrate the sun’s energy onto tubes of water. This stage can heat the water up to 200 °C. It is then pressurized and channeled to another unit to provide hot and cold water.

The exact process that facilitates this hot and cold temperature variation is kept confidential. However, the researchers state that using a water-ammonia mixture as a refrigerant enables them to vary the temperature from -60 °C to 65 °C.

Although this is not the first solar thermal system, Helioclim is unique in that it is capable of cooling down to -60 °C and heating up to 200 °C. It can also connect to a building’s existing chilled and hot water systems and can even function on a cloudy day.

“It’s important to understand that we are not generating electricity from solar panels to power traditional air conditioning machines,” said Ngheim. “Instead, we are using the sun’s thermal energy to heat water inside the units and reach the required temperatures.”

team image

From left to right, Yann Vitupier, Charles Daniel, Marie Nghiem and Yannick Godillot founded Helioclim, an emissions-free air conditioning system. (Image courtesy of Helioclim.)

There are already plans in place to develop thermal units for customers in Africa and France, with units on track for installation in 2017.

For more information, check out the Helioclim website.


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