A group of nine people in business attire, lined up, facing the camera, with flags on each side.

Staff of the Building Technologies Office (BTO), within the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, were pleased to attend the announcement of five new cooperative research and development agreements that Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has made with industry partners. The agreements will further advance DOE’s growing body of innovations that enhance the energy performance, sustainability, and safety of heating, air-conditioning, and ventilation systems (HVAC) and the refrigerants that drive them.

America’s homes and commercial buildings use nearly 40%1 of the country’s energy and 75%2 of its electricity, and air conditioning is responsible for a significant share of those figures—constituting 15% of America’s home electricity use and 12% of its commercial electricity use. When refrigeration is included, those residential and commercial figures jump to 21% and 26%, respectively.3 Combined, air conditioning and refrigeration technologies account for almost a fifth of all building energy use in the United States.

Air conditioning has always been and continues to be one of the most significant opportunities DOE has to improve energy efficiency in buildings—a particular point of emphasis in these five new cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) projects.

“Oak Ridge National Laboratory excels at translating scientific discoveries into new technology partnerships with industry,” said Daniel R Simmons, Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy. “These collaborations drive new innovations that address challenges and speed deployment of technologies into the marketplace, where they will have the greatest impact in saving energy and boosting the American economy.”

Moe Khaleel, ORNL’s associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences, said even more agreements are on the way.

“We are pleased to apply the expertise and capabilities of Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop energy-saving technologies in collaboration with these industry leaders," said Khaleel. “The collaborations announced today are just the beginning of what we anticipate being a record number of industry partnerships over the next year to develop breakthroughs for energy-efficient buildings and a more secure, resilient power grid.”

Much of this research will occur in ORNL’s Building Technologies Research and Integration Center (BTRIC), where 40,000 square feet of laboratory space has been used since 1993 to develop and test state-of-the-art innovations that improve the performance, efficiency, and sustainability of buildings.

Notably, three of the new CRADA projects are intended to build upon DOE’s longstanding efforts to develop, test, and optimize the safe and efficient use of alternative refrigerants in HVAC and other refrigeration systems. Historically, many of DOE’s CRADAs at ORNL have focused on reducing leaks in refrigeration systems and using alternative refrigerants in compressors, heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, air conditioners, and other systems. Several of ORNL’s new CRADAs will now investigate the suitability of alternative refrigerants in vending machines and other food processing systems.

The details of these new agreements, which will run for two to three years, are described here:

National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) – Evaluating environmentally friendly refrigerants for vending machines in North America, mitigating leak risks and assessing potential hazards including flammability.

“NAMA and the NAMA Foundation are collaborating with researchers at ORNL because they have the recognized expertise needed to assist owners and operators of vending machine equipment manufacturers and distributors throughout North America with the use and production of equipment that safely and efficiently uses next-generation refrigerants."

­– Eric Dell, executive vice-president

Taylor Commercial Foodservice – Developing alternative refrigerants for food processing and dispensing machines in quick-service restaurants and food retail.

“More than three million refrigerated food/beverage processing, dispensing, and vending machines in the U.S. consume up to 70% of energy through the compressor. By working with ORNL, we will be able to develop environmentally friendly refrigerant solutions that meet domestic and international expectations.”

– Stephen Wadle, senior project engineer

Emerson Climate Technologies – Accelerating the development of next-generation architecture for advanced HVAC and dehumidification coupled with energy storage and integrated water heating through a vapor compression system that utilizes long-term, climate-friendly refrigerants.

“By collaborating with ORNL on advanced technologies for HVAC systems, we’re developing a modular system with energy storage for grid-responsive capabilities. We’ll be able to accomplish our objectives on an accelerated timeframe by working with the only user facility in the nation that has the technology and resources capable of developing this type of equipment.”

– Hung Pham, director of integrated services

Enginuity Power Systems – Developing a prototype of a commercially ready micro combined heat and power (mCHP) device with an internal combustion engine fueled by natural gas.

“ORNL’s BTRIC facility provides the knowledge needed in equipment modeling, design-for-manufacturing, equipment-grid interaction modeling, environmental chambers, and heat exchanger testing loops as well as a fully equipped research house that emulates real-life occupancy. With this support, we will be able to launch the next generation of our mCHP device for large-scale commercialization.”

– Jacques Beaudry-Losique, president

Baltimore Aircoil Company – Advancing next-generation heat exchanger technology that can be deployed in an evaporator cooling system, reducing the size of the system and decreasing energy and water usage by 30%.

“This collaboration will help us expedite the production of a novel heat exchanger technology that can operate in wet and dry or hybrid conditions. ORNL scientists will accelerate our understanding of emerging new materials and their potential for heat transfer applications.”

– Michael Tenbrock, global technology R&D director

To learn more about BTO’s HVAC program and research projects, visit https://www.energy.gov/eere/buildings/hvac-water-heating-and-appliances.


1EIA Monthly Energy Review, November 2019
2EIA Electric Power Monthly, November 2019
3EIA Electricity Explained, April 2019