Author – Nithish S
This year’s summer heat has again reminded us about climate change. With the mercury on the rise, temperatures in many parts of India have crossed the 40-degree mark. The sweltering Indian summer has caused heatwaves in many places and the arrival of monsoon is expected to bring some relief. Living in a developing nation with a huge population, there is a dire need for innovative, energy-efficient and sustainable living solutions.
With the rising summer heat, the demand for electricity is also increasing as people battle the heat with fans and air-conditioners, which in turn produce harmful effects on the environment. Many of us may wonder if there is a way to beat the heat in an eco-friendly, economical and innovative manner by using the least consumption of energy?
Zero-energy Terracotta Air Conditioner
Monish Siripurapu, an architect at Ant Studio, a design firm in New Delhi, thought of this problem and wanted to create a low-tech air cooling system. He came up with the idea of using terracotta for creating a zero-energy, low-tech terracotta air conditioner. Monish designed this air-cooling system as a cheaper alternative to electrical air conditioners to reduce the heat emitted by diesel generators in a factory in New Delhi.
Monish’s design is based on the principle of evaporative cooling, an ancient technique that relies on water and porous materials like terracotta to lower the surrounding temperatures. When water seeps through the porous layers of terracotta, it evaporates at the outer surface, which cools the inner surface due to evaporative cooling. Terracotta made from clary was chosen due to its porous, malleable and robust nature.
Inspired by the beehive structure, the terracotta air conditioner consists of numerous terracotta tubes that have been densely packed and arranged in a spherical form (concentric circles). The cooling system consists of inner and outer surfaces embedded on a metal framework. Water passes through the terracotta tubes, facilitating evaporative cooling.
Air is cooled when it passes through the terracotta tubes and comes out and stays cool like water in an earthen pot. This installation also gives a beautiful cascade effect when drenched in water. The humid clay traps some heat the air and the surrounding air gets cooled down to around 6-10⁰ C due to the process of evaporative cooling.
Monish’s low-tech terracotta air cooling system underwent advanced computational analysis and modern calibration techniques before being implemented. The bee-hive structure noted for its efficient geometry was also chosen as a result of the advanced computational analysis. After the pilot testing, the low-tech terracotta air conditioner was installed for a larger beautification purpose in Deki Electronics. During the trials, the air was around 122⁰ F was relatively cooled down to a temperature of 96.8⁰ F after being passed through the terracotta tubes.
Awards & Recognitions
Named as ‘Cool Ant’, Monish Siripurapu’s natural terracotta air conditioner won an award at the Asia-Pacific Low-Carbon Lifestyles Challenge. He was awarded a $10,000 grant from the UN Environment Program, which appreciated Monish’s invention for its ingenuity and zero usage of any refrigerants. This invention was honored at the prestigious fourth UN Environment Assembly as well.
Zero Energy Air Conditioner Could Save Lives
Monish Siripurapu firmly believes that architects can play a vital role in the battle against climate change and should strive hard to create more eco-friendly lifestyles. About 40% of the generated electricity in India is consumed by the building sector and this is expected to rise to 76% by 2040. There is a huge demand for air conditioning in fast emerging economies, particularly in Asia, which could cause a tremendous 64% increase in household energy use and produce 23.1 million tons of carbon emission by 2020.
As an architect, Monish was keen to find a solution that was ecologically sensible and artistic with traditional craft methods. Motivated to fight against climate change, the architect and his Ant Studio team want to transform their innovative idea into a scalable business. So they are creating smaller versions of their terracotta air conditioning system, as these smaller units could be used in places such as cafes, railway stations, metro stations, and tourist destinations.
The Ant Studio team has also discovered a certain kind of moss that grows on the pipes have the ability to capture the carbon particles present in the air thus acting as natural air purifiers. In addition to an attractive look, the terracotta air conditioner consumes very little energy and is much cheaper than the conventional air conditioners that most Indians can’t afford. Cool Ant requires to be filled with water once or twice a day and is capable of functioning with recycled water.
Many rural areas are really in need of sustainable ways to beat the heat and Monish Siripurapu’s invention could be invaluable especially if it could be introduced into such areas.