Air-handling unit, with A, B, C and D points marked for clean air moving, regeneration exhaust, outside air and return air.

By Andy Mitchell

Uncertainty is a significant barrier to market for new technologies. The Department of Energy (DOE) addresses this barrier for building technology by studying real-world performance of the new technology in occupied, operational buildings. Businesses step up to provide host sites for the studies while national laboratories verify the performance and cost information. The results produce critical third-party verified data that is made available for other businesses, state public utility commissions, utilities, and regional energy efficiency organizations. They then use the info to consider projects and programs that incorporate the new technologies.

One such technology relates to indoor air quality (IAQ). Maintaining indoor air quality can be energy intensive and a critical component for high-performance buildings with recent evidence even suggesting that IAQ can have a significant impact on cognitive abilities and productivity. Air scrubbing, a relatively new technology, has the potential to meet IAQ needs while also taking a bite out of energy costs (commercial buildings spend $80 billion a year on energy). Traditionally, outside air is used to boost IAQ, but in many cases that air must be conditioned to keep people comfortable. That can increase energy use. New technologies offer a more efficient option that removes impurities and creates a healthy indoor environment without additional conditioning, providing consumer benefits and significant cost savings at the same time. 

Accordingly, DOE has commenced a study with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), commercial building owners, and enVerid: a company that produces a proprietary version of air scrubbing technology called the HVAC Load Reduction® (HLR®) system. So far examples of this technology are yielding promising results.

In one example a logistics company called ArcBest tested the technology as it saw its workforce grow at the Arkansas headquarters. When the daily population jumped from 800 to 1,200 people, the HVAC system could not keep up. By installing HLR technology, the company saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by avoiding the cost of a larger HVAC system to meet their new, larger load. In a second case, installing the HLR technology in a mixed-use building at the University of Miami Medical Center saw similar success. South Florida is notorious for its hot and humid climate, which presents the energy-intensive task of maintaining a comfortable, healthy indoor environment for occupants. HLR technology enabled a significant reduction in outside air while maintaining high IAQ.

DOE and enVerid will continue to work together through the summer to complete ongoing studies in additional host sites, with ongoing third-party analysis of energy data results made available for other businesses in 2018. Preliminary indications are that the operation of the HLR system is correlated with chilled water energy savings and that the HLR modules are properly controlling contaminants, which is promising for future wide-scale market adoption. When the final numbers are settled, DOE will share the info far and wide. Then dollars that were previously going out exhaust vents can be saved and put back into American businesses, jobs, and innovation.