Hot or cold?: Utilizing air conditioning, cooling systems vs effects of climate change

Climate change, or the change in global climate patterns due to increased concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, has greatly affected Earth’s living conditions and recent reports from the United Nations have shown that Earth will only continue to get hotter.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies monitors the Earth’s global temperature and reports that it has increased by 0.82 degrees Celsius since 1880. Last October 2, Dr. Hal Maring, NASA Radiation Sciences Program Manager, gave a lecture in the University explaining that even a single degree increase in global temperature can feel like a “fever” for the planet.

Just last April, Metro Manila reached a heat index of 40.4 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, Dagupan City in Pangasinan dealt with a record-breaking 49.6 degrees Celsius that same month. It is no exaggeration to say that the weather has been taking a turn for the worse.

With this climate situation, it is no surprise that many have sought refuge in the cooler air afforded by air conditioning units. As a tropical country, the Philippines is no stranger to hot temperatures. However, many sometimes do not realize that our solutions are in fact worsening the problem. From disappearing habitats to increasing global temperatures, more attention has been given to environmentally-friendly alternatives and solutions in the fight against climate change.

Theory to application

First introduced through the invention of Willis Haviland Carrier in 1902, the concept of air conditioning or refrigeration was hailed as one of the “10 greatest mechanical engineering achievements of the 20th century,” according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Utilization of these inventions ranged from large scale and industrial to household and personal usage.

Air conditioning is creating and maintaining certain conditions of temperature, relative humidity, and air purity in a closed space. Relative humidity is defined as the amount of water vapor present in the air, while air purity determines the lack of pollutants in a sample of air indoors.

In an interview with Mechanical Engineering Department Assistant Professor Engr. Martin Kalaw, he explains that the machine is based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that when energy changes from one form to another, entropy or disorder in a closed system increases.

He elaborates, “If you’re going to cool a body to [a certain] temperature, you have to transfer [the energy] to another body that [has] a lower temperature. That’s why yung [sa] air-con natin, the air that goes out is hot kasi you’re transferring the energy from the refrigerant”—a fluid or gaseous compound that absorbs heat from the environment—“to the air.”

Cooling is made possible with the help of compressors, mechanical devices that increase a gas’s pressure by reducing its volume; and evaporators, devices that facilitate the turning of a liquid chemical substance to its gaseous form.

Despite being helpful in producing cooler air, refrigerants have been tagged as one of the top contributors to Earth’s warming. These refrigerants are classified as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

CFCs and HCFCs deplete the ozone layer, which protects the Earth from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the Sun. Along with HFCs, they trap heat in the lower layers of the atmosphere, warming the Earth. With all three combined, both upper and lower layers of the atmosphere are at risk of weakening and totally depleting. However, the usage of these chemical refrigerants are now regulated by legislations, such as Republic Act 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999. 

Drifting in from AirDisc

Apart from legislations, initiatives from Filipinos that help alleviate the Earth’s current problem that is global warming are starting to be recognized.

Maria Angel Palma (II, MEEMTE), recipient of the James Dyson award, gained international and local recognition for her invention, AirDisc. She reveals that the sole purpose for AirDisc was for academic compliance. Although it was during her first competition when she realized that she discovered a new type of technology that could “revolutionize the air conditioning industry”. “I had this project in Grade 10…yung objective ko lang talaga for AirDisc was for me to pass this research subject and graduate.”

Palma’s AirDisc, however, does away with chemical refrigerants totally and instead banks on the expansion of gas molecules to effectively cool the surrounding environment. “Gumamit ako ng conductors like copper tubes and aluminum sheets para ma-absorb yung heat. So it’s a matter of heat transfer lang sa loob [ng AirDisc] para magkaroon ng cold air,” she explains.

The young inventor also discloses in an interview with The LaSallian that her invention records a significantly lower energy consumption as compared to commercial air conditioning units, “When I was testing AirDisc, I found out na 10 percent lang yung [electrical] consumption niya. Ang average consumption ng conventional [air conditioning units] is 1,500 watts; with AirDisc, it’s only 150 watts. Halos 90 percent yung energy consumption mo na mase-save, specifically [during peak hours or high noon].”

(The average consumption of conventional air conditioning units is 1,500 watts; with AirDisc, it’s only 150 watts. Almost 90 percent of energy consumption is saved.)

Palma also clarifies that her contribution through AirDisc will not disprove doubts surrounding the validity of climate change, but will instead “help reduce global gas emissions.”

Beyond her current feat, she wishes that AirDisc achieves her goal of globalization. “Our plan [is focused on] licensing and franchising. [I’m hoping na] maraming partners and collaborators [ang makuha] namin, para hindi [lang] nasa isang region siya available. We’re planning na from the Philippines, mag-eexport ng AirDisc sa Asia, Europe, Australia—worldwide,” she expresses. This increase in environmental initiatives is encouraging. However, Kalaw stresses that significant change is not dependent or caused by just one big invention like Palma’s, which is a step in the right direction; but it is through the continuous little efforts made by the collective that will truly change the world for the better.

Ramon Castañeda

By Ramon Castañeda

Denise Nicole Uy

By Denise Nicole Uy

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