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HVAC and Refrigeration: 3 Industry Trends

Questline energy expert Mike Carter recently attended the 2020 AHR Expo in Orlando, Florida. After logging countless miles and talking with many exhibitors, he shares his insights into the latest industry trends.

The 2020 AHR Expo was one big show. About 1,800 exhibitors promoted their products and services to more than 50,000 attendees. Innovation awards were handed out for building automation, indoor air quality, refrigeration and seven other categories.

From my conversations with award winners and finalists, and many other exhibitors, I’ve identified three major trends in the HVAC and refrigeration industry. Staying on top of this new technology can help you answer customer questions and provide advice.

1. Increased data collection and access

As equipment and devices become more connected, a greater amount of real-time data is now available to users. For example, manufacturers of motors and variable-frequency drive controls are integrating vibration, temperature and stator coil resistance testing into products. Also, Bluetooth communications are built into individual refrigeration electronic expansion valves.

Smart controls are coming together. Carbon dioxide, relative humidity and temperature sensing are integrated into one photoacoustic device smaller than your fingernail to enable smart thermostats. A sensor hub is available that combines temperature sensing, photo-sensing, occupancy detection, sound levels, humidity and wireless integration into one device that mounts on the ceiling. Built-in microphones and speakers enable voice control.

2. Built-in energy recovery

Air conditioning and refrigeration equipment pulls heat out of the conditioned space and rejects it outdoors, resulting in a lot of wasted heat. Achieving acceptable indoor air quality requires exhausting conditioned air and bringing in fresh outdoor air that may be much hotter and humid or cooler and drier than the indoor air. A significant amount of energy is used to cool and dehumidify that outdoor air.

Manufacturers are now building energy and heat recovery devices into air conditioning and refrigeration equipment. One device is a heat exchanger plumbed into variable-refrigerant flow (VRF) systems that transfers heat from hot refrigerant lines into a hydronic water circuit for space conditioning or tap use. Integrated energy recovery devices use cubes of paper-based or polymer-based membranes impregnated with desiccant materials that pull water vapor and heat from incoming air and transfer it into cooler indoor exhaust air using crossflow patterns of ventilation.

Other manufactures build in heat wheels of desiccant coated membranes that slowly rotate to dehumidify and cool incoming outside air. Interlaced aluminum micro-channel heat exchangers enable two-stage heat transfer in one compact device.

3. Indoor air quality innovations

Building owners are realizing the importance of indoor air quality on employee health and productivity. Manufacturers are answering the call with innovative technologies.

Ultraviolet (UV) light is being used to keep large evaporator coils free from mold and mildew build-up. Scaled-down UV disinfection is now available for much smaller VRF wall cassettes and packaged terminal air conditioner (PTAC) units.  Fiber-based air filters are now built with an electrostatic charge and integrated UV lights to achieve better filtration from impingement, charge attraction and UV disinfection.

Plasma generators produce a stream of ions in supply ducts that make microscopic particles clump together and fall out of the air. These ions enter the conditioned space to kill bacteria and germs before dissipating. Humidity is removed by desiccant wheels or added using steam, ultrasonic or high-pressure misting systems.

Mike Carter is a Senior Engineer at Questline. He has a BS in Engineering and an MBA degree from Ohio State University and is a Certified Energy Manager.