Bill Gates Invests Big in So-Called ‘Clean’ Air Conditioning Startup

Bill Gates Invests Big in So-Called ‘Clean’ Air Conditioning Startup

The path to creative climate solutions is paved with the skeletons of a million startups, but Blue Frontier wants to be different. Blue Frontier is chasing the dream of cleaner air conditioning systems with its use of a concentrated salt solution, and results are so promising that the company just got a big check from Bill Gates.

In the dog days of summer, most of us try to gravitate to an air conditioned place to beat the heat, but the issue with our modern AC technology is actually twofold. One, it’s dirty — air conditioners are energy intensive and can emit greenhouse gases like hydrofluorocarbons and carbon dioxide. Two, as climate change continues to make episodes of heat more frequent, we are going to keep having to rely on this dirty air conditioning to keep us comfortable. Enter: Blue Frontier.

Blue Frontier is a Florida-based startup focusing on engineering the next generation of air conditioning systems. The company claims that their new technology can reduce energy consumption by up to 90% — a figure so promising that Blue Frontier received $US20 ($28) million from Bill Gates’ clean investment fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures. As it stands, Blue Frontier is looking to cater to non-residential buildings and new buildings that can support a rooftop unit, with no indication on when/if this technology could be scaled down into something like a window unit for an apartment.

Blue Frontier didn’t immediately return our request for comment on how their technology works, but a report on the company’s website helps illustrate the process. Blue Frontier says that the cooling comes from a proprietary salt solution that behaves as a desiccant — this salt solution is highly concentrated via a heat pump that evaporates some of the water within it, and is sealed from the atmosphere until air conditioning is needed. When the concentrated solution comes into contact with air, it will dehumidify the air by absorbing water vapour and then reduce the air’s temperature through indirect evaporative cooling. So they say.

This is one of those technologies that I’ll believe when I see it. While Bill Gates’ stamp of approval is promising, and the science is steeped in basic chemistry and thermodynamics, there are a million other variables standing in the way of seeing a widespread rollout of Blue Frontier’s product.

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