Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) of Dubai has been recognized with a MENA Green Building Award for its research into a sustainable air-cooling system that could be deployed in Dubai’s harsh desert climate. Faculty from the University’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering partnered with energy experts at an Italian firm, Graded SpA, to design and optimize the system, which could deliver energy savings of up to 20%.
The award was presented to Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Dr Ghalib Kahwaji, at a recent ceremony hosted at the Movenpick Hotel, Bur Dubai. The University was the only higher education institution represented among the award-winners at the 11th edition of the annual event, which celebrates the region’s green building movement. This year’s awards honored the outstanding work of private and public sector entities, associations, consultants, and sustainability practitioners, who were recognized for excellence across 16 different categories.
Revealing the background and technology behind the RIT Dubai project, Dr Kahwaji said, “The partnership with Graded started when we were both looking to harness the same technology from different perspectives. Our aim was to experiment with cooling systems for the desert climate, while Graded were exploring heating solutions for cold weather environments.
“We began the research collaboration as a pilot project in 2020, with the common goal of promoting energy efficiency using a ground-coupled heat exchanger (GCHE). This involves drilling boreholes and making use of the earth’s near-constant temperature to manage heat and to reduce the power needed to cool or warm the air in comparison with conventional systems.”
Explaining the process and results, Dr Kahwaji continued, “We conducted a numerical investigation to optimize the design of GCHEs, followed by an experimental study to explore the performance, efficacy and feasibility of the system under GCC conditions. The results show that the GCHE system is effective in saving energy with a maximum recorded energy saving of up to 20 percent, and an average of 7-12 percent. The system is perfectly suited to workplace applications where the load is mainly during the day.”
The project is also the subject of a research paper authored by RIT Dubai faculty in collaboration with the Graded team. The research was presented by Dr Kahwaji and received the best paper award at the 6th International Conference on Energy Harvesting, Storage, and Transfer, hosted in June at Niagara Falls, Canada.
Building on the success of the pilot project, the research team now plans to scale up the innovation, to be deployed in different settings. Dr Kahwaji concluded, “The technology can be coupled with refrigeration systems for residential and commercial buildings as a passive method of heat rejection, to increase the systems’ efficiency and improve their performance, leading to energy savings and sustainability. Ultimately, we hope to be able to install this system in a district cooling plant to support energy conservation at the community level.”
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