Unbelievably, air conditioning and cooling’s roots lay in second-century China. We’ve come a long way since then to now (from 2000), when we can name air conditioning as one of the 10 greatest mechanical engineering achievements of the 20th century.
The first ever cooling system came to life when an inventor named Ding Huane crafted a rotary fan which was manually powered; however, the concept intrigued great inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin. Franklin also went on to conduct experiments in cooling using evaporation and alcohol to attain freezing temperatures.
With constant new developments in technology, our cooling systems have evolved to great heights and now include smart technologies. After all, we have new and exciting things to cool now – from data centres to computer systems. But just how has it evolved and why?
The Very Beginning
The first notable evidence of man’s attempt at some sort of cooling technology came from trying to beat the warmer climates almost 2,000 years ago in China. After this, in 3rd Century Rome, a system was developed for importing ice from the mountains by a donkey train to cool the garden of the Emperor. The Romans had also attempted to cool their homes by circulating cool water from the aqueducts through channels within the walls of their home.
During Medieval times, there seems to be a lack of development in air cooling technologies as people relied on their architecture to provide large openings to the outdoors.
At one point, the efforts within evolving air cooling focused on increasing the patient’s comfort within hospitals and did spur on the next advances. During the 1830s, John Gorrie, a physician, had an idea whilst researching the effect of climate on humans and the number of cases of yellow fever in the south. He created a system that forced air by fan through a bucket of ice from an ice making machine. Even though Gorrie couldn’t get financial backing for his invention and faced much political pressure from the ice industry, there are many people who still give him credit – not just as the early founder of air conditioning but also refrigeration.
Later on, in 1881, another attempt at air conditioning was made. When US President James Garfield was shot by an assassin, engineers from the US navy constructed a cooling unit which blew hot air over a wet cloth, forcing cool air to travel underneath the hot. In a summer which was almost 90 degrees Fahrenheit, this system could cool the room by 20 degrees. In the President’s last days, it did keep him more comfortable. They also used half a million pounds of ice within this time! Not quite the efficiency we were looking for.
In fact, many people put three major inventions down to the passing of the president.
The Modern Air Conditioner
Cooling the air was a huge focus of development for early air conditioners; however, another factor in air quality hadn’t been addressed until much later on, in the early 1990s: humidity. Main contributors to human discomfort include a combination of high temperatures and excessive levels of water vapour. These are also a huge hamper to numerous industrial processes, such as printing.
This is where the modern air conditioner was born. At the beginning of the 20th century, a young engineer in New York, Willis Carrier, was tasked with solving the issue of water vapour in a Brooklyn-based printing press. The company had been having issues drying the ink when printing, as well as with wrinkling paper. He put this down to improper air conditioning. The young engineer had a revelation when standing at a railway platform one day. He had the brilliant idea that he could possibly control the humidity in the air by passing it through water to create fog; this would essentially dry any excess water from the air.
Carrier applied his ideas and developed a theory titled ‘Apparatus for Treating Air’. His invention was used for commercial air conditioning purposes.
When he and another group of engineers from the current company (Buffalo Forge Company) left, they set up their own company solely for research and manufacturing. They went on to develop air conditioning technologies for a great number of industries ranging from manufacturing facilities to movie theatres. He was the first person to install an air cooling system in a cinema in New York in 1925.
He also went on to develop the Rational Psychrometric Formulae which is now used in any standard air conditioning calculation.
Current and Future Innovations in Cooling and Air Conditioning
It’s fair to say that air conditioning has changed the world. Ever since these stories of invention, we have been able to control the temperature inside, as well as the issue of humidity.
Air conditioning now, however, is more than a convenience – it has a profound influence on many factors and has even changed the way we live. Computers and servers fail if they get too hot or damp, factories need to control air quality for various reasons and air conditioning has even changed the way we build our structures. Would we have glass-fronted skyscrapers and the cityscapes of Dubai and Singapore if it wasn’t for air cooling?
Air cooling technology is constantly changing and evolving, and it doesn’t stop here. There are many current developments for new and exciting technologies such as motion activated air conditioning, thermally driven air cooling, on-demand hot water re-circulators, ice-powered circulation, and much more.
The movement of the ‘smart home’ is an interesting concept – one which the industry must move with. Everything is getting smarter, with connected systems and apps allowing us to control our homes’ heating, cooling, security, and so on. This is changing how engineers and designers are approaching new technologies, especially with the thought that fully automated homes may be a thing in the very near future. 3D printing may also change the face of the industry; could we possibly be printing our systems in the future?
Who knows what the future may hold for air conditioning? After all, worldwide air conditioning use is likely to triple by 2050. With issues such as environmental concern being a ‘hot’ topic, and a growing demand for higher efficiency, the future of cooling will also be focusing on that: cutting emissions and reducing costs at the same time.