Bill Gates' clean tech investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, is leading a $20 million investment round in an air conditioning startup, Blue Frontier. Blue Frontier's air conditioner uses a salt solution as a liquid desiccant to do both the cooling and dehumidification work that is done by refrigerants.

Conventional air conditioning technology uses a lot of energy, meaning it's contributing to climate change. Air conditioning is responsible for nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to an analysis by scientists from the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center.

Air conditioner technology uses a vapor compression cycle to cool the air. "It's good that more people can benefit from improved comfort, but it also means a lot more energy is used," an NREL engineer says. The emissions are expected to get worse as more people install air conditioners, especially in India and China.

Chlorofluorocarbons used to be part of the most common refrigerants in air conditioners. Those chemicals deplete the ozone layer and they're being phased out. There are a couple dozen alternatives that don't harm the ozone. But they still have a high global warming potential.

An additional 820 million come tons from the leakage of refrigerants and from greenhouse gasses. "We've already made the existing, century-old technology nearly as efficient as possible," Woods says. "To get a transformational change in efficiency, we need to look at different approaches," he says.
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