Editorial Feature

Using Thermoacoustic Technology to Sustainably Heat and Cool Buildings

The heating and cooling of buildings requires vast amounts of energy and accounts for half of the world’s energy use as well as 40% of its energy-related global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Experts consider it to be one of the worlds most important net-zero challenges. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 °C or ideally 1.5 °C, significant changes must be initiated in building temperature control. These changes must be sustainable and significant enough to drastically cut the emissions associated with the sector.

buildings, thermoacoustic technology, heat and cool buildings

Image Credit: OlegRi/Shutterstock.com

Experts predict that requirements for heating and cooling residential and commercial buildings will continue to grow by as much as 80% between 2010 and 2050. Much of this growth is related to rapid urbanization and population growth. The demand for heating and cooling will worsen alongside global warming, with higher than usual temperatures pushing demand for cooling devices.

Fortunately, numerous strategies have been developed to tackle the growing demand for heating and cooling. Some strategies have focused on decarbonizing heating and cooling methods, others have focused on thermal energy storage, while the most common way has been to reduce the use of heat by increasing energy efficiency, improving insulation, and utilizing waste heat. Here, we discuss one such type of thermoacoustic technology for buildings that utilizes waste heat and recycles it so that it can be used to power heating and cooling platforms while relying less on energy generation.

Sustainable Thermoacoustic Technology

Thermoacoustics looks at the interactions between the density and pressure of acoustic waves with temperature. Research in this sector has developed groundbreaking technology that is helping to address climate change by converting solar energy or waste heat into power. These thermoacoustic heat engines offer a way to generate energy from renewable energy or waste, meaning that our increasing demand for power can be fulfilled, at least in part, from this sustainable method. Even low levels of heat are enough to generate power, making the system suited to heat recovery and low-power applications.

SoundEnergy has successfully developed a platform that uses thermoacoustics to generate energy. The thermoacoustic energy converter (THEAC-25) has been developed to convert waste heat into cool air. The innovation aims to reduce the energy and emissions associated with powering air-conditioning systems by capturing waste heat and producing 25 to 40 kW cold output - enough to cool air or water to temperatures as low as -25 °C.

The system does not rely on environmentally damaging chemical fluids as traditional air conditioning systems do. The THEAC-25 uses the third most abundant gas already in our atmosphere, argon, as the working gas, making it environmentally friendly, given that argon’s global warming potential is zero (GWP=0).

Additionally, the THEAC-25 does not require mechanical movement to operate, reducing its energy consumption requirements. It also does not rely on precious metals or materials, which reduces indirect carbon emissions (e.g., those associated with mining). Further to this, the system has an estimated 30-year service and only needs to be inspected yearly, enhancing its sustainability, and reducing the emissions related to multiple technician callouts. Finally, production of the THEAC-25 is compliant with the EUs Pressure Equipment Directive (PED) and is Lloyds certified.

The technology has been implemented into numerous settings to help reduce the emissions related to heating and cooling systems. For example, it was recently installed on the rooftop of a new school building in Delden, the Netherlands, known as the IKC Magenta. The system will provide solar-assisted cooling to the building’s climate system. As well as reducing the emissions associated with heating and cooling the building, the system also makes the school safer as no hot liquids (e.g., thermal oil, hot water, steam) are used. The installation of THEAC at the IKC Magenta building led to it being nominated for the Dutch Sustainable Building Award”.

The Future for Heating and Cooling Systems

There is an urgent need to change the way we heat and cool buildings to reduce global emissions and prevent the detrimental impacts of climate change. Thermoacoustic technology for buildings offers a sustainable way to heat and cool buildings without the high levels of emissions associated with traditional methods.

Widespread adoption of such methods in both commercial and residential buildings is needed to help the world meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Positive case studies such as that of the IKC Magenta help to demonstrate the benefits of this technology which will hopefully encourage a more rapid uptake of the technology.

References and Further Reading

Goldstein, B., Gounaridis, D. and Newell, J. (2020) The carbon footprint of household energy use in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(32), pp.19122-19130. https://www.pnas.org/content/117/32/19122

Low-carbon heating and cooling: overcoming one of worlds most important net zero challenges. [Online]. The Royal Society. Available at: https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/climate-change-science-solutions/climate-science-solutions-heating-cooling.pdf

Turn waste heat into profit. [Online]. SoundEnergy. Available at: https://www.soundenergy.nl

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Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.


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