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Beating the Heat Without Warming the Planet: How Simulation is Leading to Greener, More Efficient Cooling Systems

In recent years, one of the top priorities for manufacturers is to reduce CO2 emissions to ensure a planet-friendly operation. Sustainability is driving new and innovative business practices across the globe as companies find ways to harmonize CO2 emission reduction with economic goals and the technological challenges that come with it. 

Finding the balance between the most planet-friendly and cost-effective method of production isn’t an easy endeavor, however, as companies try to identify ways to improve efficiency while managing production costs and development timelines. Take the production of air conditioning (AC) units for example. With 40% of the world’s population residing in hot tropical regions, many people are exposed to potentially life-threatening temperatures for at least 20 days a year, highlighting the reliance of effective cooling methods. “That’s easily solved” you may think, “let’s just make more AC units.”

One of the great ironies of climate change however is the high levels of greenhouse gases emitted by air conditioning units, estimated to increase the global temperature by as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius, according to calculations by the World Economic Forum. It’s predicted that by 2050, the number of AC units will quadruple to 4.5 billion, becoming as ubiquitous as smartphones are today. 

There are even competitions such as the Global Cooling Prize, launched to develop a climate-friendly residential cooling solution that can provide access to cooling for people without warming the planet. 

Complex problems require comprehensive solutions

For an application as complex as an AC unit, the need for a comprehensive full system modeling solution is very apparent. Understanding the complexities of any machine requires a deep knowledge of how the machine works, what external factors impact its efficacy, and a reliable method of predicting the performance to ensure a newly designed product behaves as intended. 

To demonstrate this complexity, let’s examine the factors impacting the performance of a heating ventilating air conditioning (HVAC) system in the cabin of a vehicle. These machines need to provide passenger comfort by increasing or decreasing the temperature of the cabin via airflow through vents. Therefore, various fluid dynamics and external factors need to be considered such as air temperature, heat radiation from the sun, the orientation of the cabin windows, the metabolic rate of passengers, and reflected radiation from nearby surfaces. 

The comfort of the passenger is also strongly determined by properly managing the humidity and moisture in the air. Analyzing this properly is important to ensure an accurate estimation of energy consumption. Within this field, it’s common for air conditioning design engineers to plot and analyze various processes using a psychrometric chart, which serves as an aid to help solve many problems.

A psychrometric chart used to understand the properties of air
A psychrometric chart used to understand the properties of air

Due to the multiple variables related to such an application, a system modeling tool such as Altair® Activate® can be used understand the various physics involved and how they interact holistically on the system and its components.

There are many external variables to consider when designing a HVAC system
There are many external variables to consider when designing a HVAC system

Activate is an open and flexible integration platform for comprehensive system of systems simulation. Based on a hybrid block diagram modeling environment for signal blocks, object oriented physical components, and electric and electronics systems, Activate allows users to gain a holistic view of the design. By combining physical-based, signal-based, and script-based software, users can solve some of the toughest challenges. 

Using Activate, users can incorporate several simulation solutions for a holistic approach
Using Activate, users can incorporate several simulation solutions for a holistic approach

For a simplified example of this application, the diagram below shows what a system-of-systems representation could look like by utilizing Activate. Modeling water vapor loads, ambient cabin temperature, human thermal loads, solar radiation, and other factors is possible using Altair’s simulation solutions.

A simplified view of a system-of-systems solution
A simplified view of a system-of-systems solution

The behavior of fluid dynamics in this application is also incredibly important to analyze. Altair® CFD® makes it possible to realize a design by accurately simulating the airflow of passenger compartments, including all relevant thermal effects such as convection, conduction, and radiation heat transfer in the cabin. 

To learn more about Altair CFD and the methodologies that provide solutions to complex fluid challenges, watch this video.

Access everything

Understanding applications that consist of multiple systems, each with their own unique behaviors, requires access to an in-depth and comprehensive set of solutions. Altair's revolutionary, flexible licensing model enables customers to fully access all of our software instantly, as well as have the ability to seamlessly run these applications on-demand locally or in the cloud. Packaged as a comprehensive set of applications for all design and engineering needs, our units-based structure is scalable, shareable, and more cost effective than obtaining individual licenses for each application.

Additionally, Altair One™ makes it possible to quickly find and download Altair and partner software to solve your toughest challenges. Explore further with dynamic, collaborative access to simulation and data analytics technology plus scalable HPC and cloud resources, all in one place.