The letter from the Department of Energy said it all: Dear Inventors, the design for your energy-efficient air conditioner is not possible. It violates the laws of thermodynamics.
It could have been a crushing blow to the founders of Denver-based Coolerado: Dr. Valeriy Maisotsenko, Tim Heaton, and the three Gillan brothers (Alan, Lee, and Rick). But the five men knew they were on to something, so five months later they sent the DOE a prototype for testing. Just try the thing, they said. The prototype blew the DOE testers away; the Coolerado model was far more efficient than regular A/C units. The DOE even recognized that Dr. Maisotsenko, who helmed the Thermal Physics Research Laboratory in Ukraine before fleeing in 1992, had discovered a new thermodynamic cycle (which has been named the Maisotsenko Cycle).
The accolades keep piling up: Last year, Coolerado won the Western Cooling Challenge, sponsored by University of California-Davis, by building an air conditioner that's 80 percent more efficient than current DOE standards. Popular Science included the company in its "Best of What's New: 2009" list. And earlier this year, the DOE awarded Coolerado with $750,000 in tax credits from the U.S. stimulus package to help increase production.
Today, Coolerado sells commercial A/C units across the world, and though they cost about 25 percent more than regular units, they pay for themselves in energy savings over two or three years. Home units are on the market as well ($7,000 to $10,000 for 2,300 square feet; rebates are available), but Coolerado is concentrating on commercial units right now for profitability's sake. Looking back, the founders don't mind that the DOE shot them down the first time around. "[Being rejected] was actually kind of good," says Rick Gillan. "It prompted us to say that we can do it and that we are doing it."
How it works
- Regular A/C
Freon gas is heated and cooled in a heat exchanger, causing air to cool. You're basically refrigerating your house.
- Swamp cooler
A direct evaporative cooler, better known as a swamp cooler, evaporates water into the air, causing the air to cool down.
- Coolerado A/C
A radical advancement on swamp coolers, Coolerado's units are indirect evaporative coolers, which take the cooled, humid air and use a heat exchanger (like a radiator) to cool down air in a separate compartment. The cooled, dry air is then pumped into the house.