The new cool - Super-efficient air conditioningBuildings consume about half of the world’s energy. The UK start-up Artica could make them greener with cooling technology that uses 90 percent less energy ...
Allianz and CNBC’s Good Entrepreneur competition seeks product ideas that have the potential for both economic success and a positive environmental impact. Artica is one of the three finalists selected from hundreds of entrants from all over Europe.
Allianz Knowledge: Your project is about a more efficient way of cooling buildings. How does it work?
Matthew Holloway: The Artica system is a natural cooling and ventilation system that uses 10 percent of the energy of a conventional air-conditioning system. At the core is a ‘thermal battery’. Just like an electrical battery stores electrical energy, a thermal battery stores thermal energy.
In Europe, there is a 10 to 15 degrees Celsius temperature drop between day and night. At night, the system draws in cool air from outside to freeze the material inside the thermal battery. During the day, it circulates the warm air over the frozen material to provide cooling.
In winter it can work in reverse. The system removes warm stuffy air from the building and transfers that warmth to cool fresh air coming in to the building. That makes it really different from a normal air-conditioning system, which provides no fresh air. So this is also good for productivity levels. If the office is hot and stuffy and there is no supply of fresh air, then you will feel tired.
Many cooling devices use potentially harmful materials. What is your thermal battery made of?
The main materials inside the thermal battery are water and some naturally occurring salts. We can actually take waste bi-products from other industries and upcycle them. There is nothing nasty in there. It’s like an intelligent ice that changes from solid to liquid at about room temperature. And the warmer it gets, the harder it works.
It is not like classical air-conditioning systems where you have a refrigerant. Those gases are often either bad for the ozone layer, very powerful greenhouse gases, or toxic to humans. For example Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) can actually be up to 10.000 times more potent greenhouse gases than CO2. And HFCs are poisonous as well.
What difference would this system make?
First of all, it has low running costs. It reduces energy bills by 90 percent. But we also have lower maintenance costs, because we have a simpler working mechanism. It also works with existing infrastructure, it can ‘plug and play’ into the existing ventilation system. It can also be used to increase the performance of an existing air-conditioning system.
There are also practical reasons. You cannot always install the outside systems necessary for conventional air-conditioning in old and listed buildings, because of planning or space issues. We don’t need an outside unit at all.
The last reason is environmental. We have been approached by many customers who don’t want to use conventional air-conditioning anymore as they are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. We also do not have issues with things like condensation and the resulting build up of moisture and bacteria that can lead to Legionnaires’ disease. We actually filter the air and remove particles and pollutants to create a fresh and healthy environment.
That sounds impressive, but what are the drawbacks?
Initially we are focusing on Northern Europe and North America, which are obviously huge markets and have a perfect climate for the system. But the basic product isn’t so suitable for tropical regions, because the temperature difference between day and night is relatively small.
However by combining our system with a conventional air-conditioning system you can extend the range of environments where it is applicable but still get huge energy savings.
In the Middle East, for example, you often get a 20-25 degrees Celsius temperature drop between day and night, which we can take advantage of. Running an air-conditioning system at such high temperatures would be very costly. But if you combine our system and conventional air-conditioning, you will get the same cooling with significantly lower energy consumption.
You are trying to set up a new business in the midst of an economic crisis. What are your chances of success?
To some extent the current economic crisis plays into our hands. As people are looking to save money wherever they can, Artica enables them to adopt a green and sustainable system that reduces their costs.And if you have the right idea at the right time, it doesn’t really matter. Someone once told me that art is better in a recession, because there is less money around. The same is true for ideas. If there is less money around, you have to think harder.
You are participating in the Green Entrepreneur competition. What is in it for you?
As an early stage company we are always looking to get exposure and endorsements to gain credibility with our industry and our customers. The publicity that we get from the GE competition helps us a lot, even just getting down to the last three is already great. It also helps build our network and gain advice from successful businessmen and mentors.
Where do you see your project in two years time?
We need to break even with our products, become self-sufficient. We are looking to launch the system later this year and spend the following 12 months establishing ourselves within key markets.
In one to two years we will be positioned to address wider markets both in the UK and overseas. With 45 percent of the UK’s energy usage being consumed by buildings, our project has a real and immediate opportunity to make a huge impact.