Your A/C Probably Sucks. With Liam Berryman

What This Show Is All About.

Thereโ€™s no one magic bullet to solving the climate crisis โ€“ there are many different solutions we need...tune in as Ian Sumner speaks with Liam Berryman about what role material science plays in solving the climate crisis, and why your A/C Sucks.


Liam Berryman 0:01
The global warming potential. So the impact to the climate of the refrigerants that are used to power a standard air conditioning or refrigeration system are at minimum thousands of times higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide. When it fails when it leaks. This is not constant, right? This occurs only when there’s damage or break in the system. But the but it’s thousands of times more more detrimental on a volume basis.

Ian Sumner 0:28
Now we’ve covered a few different approaches to addressing the climate crisis here minimizing plastics and waste encouraging better behavior. And there’s no one magic bullet to the next essential problem. Solving the climate crisis is going to take many different solutions for hundreds of challenges. Now, we take a look at what role material science will play in solving the climate crisis spoiler, making those ACS run more efficiently and avoiding critical failures that leak harmful refrigerants this week on big feet, why? You’re Eric conditioner sucks and what it’s going to take to improve this hundred year old technology to help me out with that. Liam Berryman. First off, I mean, thank you so much for coming onto the show. So there’s a lot of different ways that material science is going to play in the climate crisis, air conditioning, just being one of the ones that you’re working on. Before we dive into that, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and the company that you’re building?

Liam Berryman 1:26
Sure. Happy to first of all, you know, very pleased to be on the show. I appreciate you guys having me on. So my name is Liam Berryman. By background, I’m a chemical engineer. But for the past approximately four years actually close to five at this point I’ve been building the company in Colombo and Colombo is a materials company. We focus on bringing the world’s first low cost highly scalable and environmentally compliant platform for applying nano structure to surfaces to a variety of different Products many of which you use in your daily life. So our first product line is in the cooling industry for air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, where we’re using this nano structure to solve problems like frost and ice and low temperature systems, corrosion and outdoor systems and water accumulation and mold for your standard air conditioner. And what this does is it increases energy efficiency and increases the longevity of how long this equipment can last in the field. One of the new product lines we’re working on is on more flexible substrates like nylon, which is something you should be hearing a little bit more about later this year. But the basics of us as a company is we develop the materials and we bring in strategic partners that bring manufacturing and distribution channels or existing products. We work together to develop a product that integrates in nano structure typically for the very first time. So we’re almost always a first mover in these product lines that we’re entering. And then we go to market with those particular partners Hmm.

Ian Sumner 2:59
So Diving back into the field of materials engineering, what would you say is the importance of material engineering in the climate crisis? So looking at the role you’re playing in New lumbo, how would you describe the approach you’re taking to attack climate change?

Liam Berryman 3:14
Yeah, that’s a that’s a really good question. So if you think about it, if there’s two big ways that materials can contribute to or change the products that are around us. So one is by enabling those products to do something they can’t currently do to bring bringing in a new capability or a higher level of performance that currently exists. And then the second reason is that it simply is what the product itself is made out of. So it’s after the product is is no longer being used. It’s what still exists in our environment, whether it’s recycled or we put into landfill or dissolved or or gasified or whatever other means we used to get rid of that. The materials are, what the product is I got what’s what it’s made out of that. And so there’s a really cool opportunity where if you get the material science, right, and you really make something, where the chemistry itself is what it is, the composition of it, is not detrimental to the environment, it you know, easily dissolves, or it’s easily recycled. Or it’s, you know, something that is very minimal in terms of impact the landfill, it’s something that, you know, unlike, for example, a lot of fluorinated chemistries, they were off into the environment and start becoming bioaccumulate Tory, so they become toxic plants and animals. You can create chemistries that don’t do things like that, and also improve the performance or bringing new capability to a product because it’s something that it hasn’t been possible before. Then you get kind of get to two for one is how Yeah. So I see that that is a big part of our role looking at the materials and things is it’s asking, you know, what’s, what is? What’s not possible today that we think we can do? And can we do it with materials that at the end of the day are going to be at least neutral if not making a very positive? move towards What’s the last time when this product is discarded or no longer use?

Ian Sumner 5:23
Okay, yeah, so it’s changing products. So they last longer, and are actually recyclable. And you know, and I know more and more companies are moving towards more sustainable products with those types of qualities. And you’re part of helping companies actually achieve that. Right.

Liam Berryman 5:41
Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s a big part of our goal. And alanda is, every product that we work on, we’re not only increasing the economic value of that product by bringing it a new capability that hasn’t had before, or a threshold of performance that it just simply hasn’t seen before. We’re also in some manner are increasing the environmental sustainability about products. And that’s through both indirect and direct means. And direct means directly, we actually contribute to a reduction, again, in the case of our first product line, a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions that occur through preventing acute failure of heat exchangers in cooling devices, which cause very harmful refrigerants to leak into the atmosphere. So that’s one direct way we can contribute to reducing the amount of carbon equivalent emissions and then an indirect method but still very important is simply making the devices we use much more energy efficient, allows us to in the consumption and in the generation of pool or in cooling down air, or other fluids use less energy in that process. So for the equivalent amount of cooling using less energy, you’re interact indirectly going back to where that energy was produced, reducing the amount of emissions that are generated Yeah, um,

Ian Sumner 7:01
so I guess just going I know a lot of your guys’s work has been on h AC sort of H HVAC systems, which, depending on how we, where we are, where you live for climate change you might be using a lot of I know I, I lived in LA, all last year, I was using my AC a lot. And so I have an AC I mean, well, what’s wrong with it?

Liam Berryman 7:23
It’s a good question. In basic form, there’s not something that’s wrong with the system per se, right? It fills the function that you need as a consumer and it takes air from the outside and it cools it down to a certain temperature setpoint so that you can experience a more comfortable indoor climate. And that’s the basic function of an air conditioner. And then a refrigerator or freezer system is effectively the same product, the same system that just goes to a much lower setpoint. The challenge though, is that and this is what’s what’s pretty unknown to the, you know, the most consumers is that as you’re operating these systems components that that drive that operation during the process of cooling air actually have a lot of different surface challenges that occur, similar to things that I listed earlier. So things like the accumulation of water, this is what happens when you cooled down very humid air, you take water vapor, and it condenses into liquid water, very similar to what happens on the outside of a drinking glass of water that’s gotten too cold. That causes problems for your system decreases its energy efficiency, it causes the buildup of mold and other contaminants which are further further detrimental for the system. And then over time, you also have the deposition of contaminants in the system on these components that are operating to cool air, which further decreases efficiency and leads to these these problems like leaks that cause catastrophic failure of the system. And ultimately a huge amount of very high global warming potential refrigerant being leaked into the atmosphere. And so you know, all of that is is not something that’s it’s obviously advertised By the companies that are producing these systems, but they’re very real problems. And the big challenge is that the air conditioning system itself is actually a pretty darn mature technology, right? It’s been around for 100 plus years. And so the challenge is in a mature industry that’s very cost competitive, you have to find ways to increase performance or increase energy efficiency or longevity of the system. At a very favorable cost point, we think of this as the performance versus cost trade off. And so it’s actually pretty difficult to do that with a lot of the existing mechanical design differences that you can go after. So what we see our approach as is by bringing a material a nanostructured coating, if you will, to certain components in the system. We’re using low cost chemical inputs to create ultimately a difference in energy efficiency for the system.

Ian Sumner 9:56
So what’s the scare with these refrigerants. Like what type of stuff if me running aโ€“

Ian Sumner 10:02
I don’t know it’s probably like a 20 year old maybe 10 year old probably pretty efficient because I was renting right in LA and it’s sitting out in the hot sun all day and I’m assuming the person that was there before me used it probably not a very efficient one I did because I’m I try to not using as much as possible but you know, you live in LA you can only do so much like what what type of stuff was I putting into the air by by using that air conditioner is it Yeah.

Ian Sumner 10:38
That harmful Yeah. What are we looking at?

Liam Berryman 10:40
Without going without going into the chemistry details because it you know, that would be a longer conversation. The basics to understand are that the the global warming potential, so the impact to the climate, of the refrigerants that are used to power a standard air conditioning or refrigeration system are at minimum thousands of times higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Well now there’s much more carbon dioxide produced than on a on a volumetric basis and and and emitted into the atmosphere per year than the refrigerants that exist in the systems but it’s a non negligible number every every you know, unit if you just think about, you know, equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide versus the stuff that’s in your air conditioner. If you just admit one unit of each of those the same time, you’re actually getting thousands of times more impact from the stuff that’s coming out of your air conditioner. When it fails when it leaks. This is not constant right? And this occurs only when there’s a damage or break in the system. But but it’s thousands of times more more detrimental on a on a volumetric basis.

Ian Sumner 11:53
Okay, it seems like it’s a possibly pretty significant amount. And I don’t know about you, but I was never up on the road. of my apartment to see what the AC was looking like. And if it was in the right shape, I don’t know about the management if they were actually taking a peek on that. But the are a lot of these being run with some sort of damage in there that are releasing these chemicals were like it is a solid problem.

Liam Berryman 12:15
So it’s actually designed into a standard air conditioner that a given pretty significant quantity of the refrigerants will leak out

Ian Sumner 12:26
WOW, it’s designed in?

Liam Berryman 12:27
Yeah, it’s part of the design. It’s not it’s not it’s not supposed to happen, right? The idea is it for it to not happen. But the assumption is that just due to field conditions just due to you know, machines aren’t perfect. Basically, there will be some leakage of refrigerant so a standard air conditioner, even after it’s lost a pretty big amount of the refrigerant that was put into it. Initially, when the system was first created. It can still operate with a much lower amount of refrigerant. It’s not as efficient but it can still operate. Okay, so they’ve got more

Ian Sumner 12:58
than they need into it now. Some of its gonna yell probably. Okay.

Liam Berryman 13:02
Correct. And then like another factor is sometimes it’s not even the system itself that isn’t working well, it’s just that when routine maintenance is done, you know, like a contractor or someone is providing mechanical services. Sometimes there’ll be a, you know, a leak of refrigerant out that they don’t replace when they are just, they’re just adjusting the system. And that’s not necessarily anybody’s fault. That’s just, that’s just the kind of the way these systems work. And so that’s, that’s already there. If you’ve lost all of the refrigerant system, you do you have a catastrophic failure because you can’t operate a cooling system without that refrigerant. It’s just simply not possible. So your system actually shuts off and that’s when someone will pick up you know, a consumer will pick up the phone and and call, you know, their service company or their or their, their maintenance contract company, and say, you know, my air conditioner is not working, but most don’t have knowledge that that’s because of this particular problem. It’s, it’s to them, you know, it’s just not providing the service that they they want to see from your A standard air conditioner. Wow. But the question is, you know, the answer to your question is that this is the direction that that things are moving. I think we need them to move this direction more quickly. But like, you know, there was the Montreal Protocol. And then the Kigali amendment, the Montreal Protocol, which are agreements that many countries and the air conditioning industry actually have signed on to do going forward with, which account for designing new cooling systems that are able to run on refrigerants that are less environmentally detrimental than what the current state of the market is state of the art. It’s even round. Now. Those redesigns yes, even right now. So there’s basically this roadmap in the industry of, you know, by 2023. People need to be selling systems that are using a different refrigerant and what’s sold today, which means you need to design your system differently, because it’s there’s different thermodynamics. There’s different there’s different mechanics basically that need to go into how these cooling systems are designed and operated. If the working fluid, the refrigerant is a different chemistry, so we’re moving in the right direction. But it’s, you know, that’s just for new sales, that’s not going to account for the existing installed base on cooling devices. So you’re not going to see like an instant switch from an old refrigerant to a newer refrigerant. And you know this, that will happen over time. But it’s not a cure all. I’m not saying that there is anything that can be a cure all. But we we definitely need to be moving in the direction of better refrigerants. And then just devices that use less energy as they operate as quickly as possible because cooling is is one of the runaway issues that we see. With the climate challenge. It’s already a huge fraction of use. It’s continuing to grow based on demand from consumers and businesses. And as the planet gets warmer in different environments, pooling becomes the thing you need in order to continue making people and businesses operate. So it’s a it’s, it could be an exponential problem. That’s the fear that a lot of people have.

Ian Sumner 16:10
Gotcha. So you guys are trying to, I guess, mitigate that exponential problem by trying to eliminate it as a problem. It sounds like right by making except these don’t break down and don’t release these refrigerants into the air to begin with, right.

Liam Berryman 16:27
Yeah, but that’s, that’s correct. And we are, we are one solution amongst, you know, a number of different approaches. And ultimately, to really solve the cooling piece of the overall climate challenge is how I think of it. There will be multiple different solutions that will have to actually be implemented and work together. So there really isn’t a single cure all what we’re doing at NOAA has a huge impact and is great for the industry because it’s a solid performance versus cost trade off, which is hard to find elsewhere. But we are, you know, by no means the only solution or the only thing you should be implementing in a cooling system in order for us all to move towards a more sustainable future.

Ian Sumner 17:10
Gotcha. And there’s less damaging cooling for purchasing something that’s new on the market right now you were less toxic and cooling. If they’re sold better, at least in an older one hour later.

Liam Berryman 17:25
That is right. That is right. But there is still nobody on the market today, except for our company. So this is a little bit of the of our shameless plug for the day. There’s nobody on the market today that is offering a solution to the acute failure or heat pumps that I was talking about before, where you have corrosion leading to a significant leak, which means all the refrigerant escapes your system and your system shuts down. So that’s actually something I know is being discussed within California right now is how can that problem be solved?

Ian Sumner 17:58
Yeah, no, we should. be acceptable that that refrigerant is able to leak out into the air and damage the environment. Exactly

Liam Berryman 18:06
right. So it’s like it’s like you’re gonna if you transition from existing means to using key pumps, you’re gonna reduce the amount of energy that’s being used because he pumps are more efficient. But if you then leak all that refrigerant into the atmosphere because this system, you know, compared to a hot water heater or other other method for your house, because this system, you know, beliefs refrigerant in the atmosphere, you’re going to basically lose all the carbon dioxide on a net basis, you’re not going to actually gain anything in terms of defeating emissions. We’v e got to find a way to solve that problem

Liam Berryman 18:38
that’s that’s one of the reasons Exactly. That’s right. Because nobody has got a really good way of doing that

Ian Sumner 18:43
today. Wow. That’s That’s a lot of refrigerant seems pretty, pretty toxic 1000 times more than co2. I did not. I did not realize that is, is there anything I can be doing to you I mean, what can what can What Can anyone at home be doing to try to solve and stem this problem? Right? Is it just making sure that there’s proper maintenance on these? What can I be doing?

Liam Berryman 19:13
Yeah, that’s so proper maintenance is is certainly part of it. But I would say that for most consumers, and also for most businesses, I think that as, as there is more advanced equipment that’s rolled out, initially price points are going to be higher. That’ll that’ll almost almost definitely be something that needs to be dealt with. And historically, the cooling market has been very price sensitive. So it’s often for less efficient, lower cost equipment. Yeah. For upfront, upfront installation. I think we really need to have both consumers and businesses be OK with or figure out a way to deal with the fact that more advanced people equipment that’s ultimately better for the environment is simply more costly to produce upfront, even if it’s by an incremental amount that you save over the lifetime of that equipment. So one of the things that I’m really excited to see is the rise of a lot of kind of project finance mechanisms that are allowing people to implement, you know, more advanced or even do retrofits for more advanced more energy efficient equipment that they can finance with a third party, so they’re not putting their money up upfront. And then, you know, we’re getting more efficient equipment, the investors are getting paid back from some of that energy efficiency savings over time. And the consumer of the business up front is not, you know, having to outlay their own their own money to do it. So it’s kind of a win for everybody. Rather $1 battle. Exact market. That’s a form of it. Gotcha. Exactly. Yeah. And that’s that, you know, people have learned a lot from the solar from how solar has been finance and are now deploying that into Other areas. So I think the more that that could be adopted, and the more that that can be scaled up for really big cooling applications, like industrial power plants, and and down, or really small applications, like a residential home and maybe made applicable in all those scenarios, the faster we’re gonna get a solution to the cooling problem.

Ian Sumner 21:21
Gotcha. So, and I mean, so so for me right now, the biggest impact I can have as far as making sure my AC doesn’t suck is keeping an eye out for when new ones come on the market, making sure my current one stays properly maintenance. I think I guess just try not to use it as much as like unless it’s necessary, right?

Liam Berryman 21:42
Yeah. Yeah, that so all of those things. And then I’d also say, to, to the extent there is legislation that comes along that supports, you know, at your, at your local or at your state or even at a federal level that supports financing for green energy projects. or energy efficiency projects, or even just supports mandating, you know, improved or higher efficiency equipment, even if there’s no financing for it initially, I think, you know, we as individual, you know, voters and consumers should be should be supporting that. So showing support for that can be really helpful. You know, one example is that California is is already putting into policy transitioning to basically 100% heat pump adoption. And just for reference, a heat pump is basically an air conditioner, you can run in both directions, so you can use it to both heat and cool your house, depending on whether it’s the winter or the summer, and specifically electric heat pumps. So having these be 100% connected to the electrical grid, so that all eventually all new home sales in California or all new builds, will be 100% Electric will actually be no natural gas run into those residential homes. That at least the idea being some of the sorry, the idea Yeah, the idea being if you can if you can generate a bulk of your your electricity from, you know, green green production methods wind or solar, and then pipe it directly to those homes or put through wires directly directly to those homes and then you’ve got all electrical appliances through the entire home, then you don’t have to invest the infrastructure for natural gas and you’ve got a greener, you know, end to end production and consumption of energy. Ultimately, you know, in the beginning, there’s going to be a lot of those homes that are that are you know, connected to the grid, which is ultimately power plants that are producing that energy at first, but having you know, having a residential home that is 100% electrical versus any natural gas or other energy methods, it is the start to kind of pushing the market in that direction. So So California is and heat pumps are super, you know, you know, quite energetic Question on a relative basis that other kinds of appliances and other other means you can use in your home. Yeah, so that’s a, that’s a really good step forward. And those kinds of programs are what the market needs on the, you know, the supply side, I would say, are what, you know, air conditioner manufacturers, ie manufacturers need to see, they need to see that that demand exists for them to invest upfront in making more advanced equipment. So the more that you know, you can get a policy pole, it does actually create an impact on industries like these so we as individuals can can support the generation of that policy.

Ian Sumner 24:37
Nice. Okay. That’s I mean, that’s, that’s super informative. Yeah. Thank you so much for coming on and explaining and making air conditioning exciting.

Liam Berryman 24:45
Sure. Thanks. Thanks very much for having me on the call. I look forward to being on again soon. Can’t wait to have you.

Ian Sumner 24:56
Big feet is a production of the impact and produced by me you center music check out our whole publication along with our other podcasts at read the We’ll be back next week.

Produced By

Ian Sumner Editor In Chief The Impact
Ian Sumner

Music By

Swaroop Pujari | Music Producer @ The Impact
Swaroop Pujari

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