Air conditioner project aims for efficient energy

MU student receives grant to find a replacement for traditional coils.
Tuesday, April 5, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:58 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

When many people talk about air conditioning, they are talking about the blue and red knob in their cars or the plastic box on the wall of their homes.

But when Joshua Hensley talks air conditioning, he quite literally takes it to a whole new level.

Hensley, a first-year graduate student at MU, was the recipient of a $4,000 grant to support his research on a new, more efficient way to cool homes and businesses.

He received the money from the American Public Power Association after applying in July of 2004 and was sponsored by the Columbia Water and Light Department.

The official announcement by the city was made a month ago in coordination with Engineering Week, Hensley said.

“Everyone was talking about engineering, at least the engineers were,” he said with a smile.

As part of the application process, applicants have to be sponsored, and that’s where the city’s Water and Light Department comes in.

“Joshua seems very in tune with what we are trying to promote, which is energy efficiency,” said Tina Worley, a utility services manager.

Hensley’s research centers on getting rid of traditional coils in typical air conditioning units.

Instead, he will add a feature that runs air through a stream of water. The air cools quicker because it’s in direct contact with the cold water, instead of being cooled through coils.

The primary reason this theory has not been used extensively in the past is the problem of collecting the water. Hensley said his design collects the water and recycles it back through the air conditioning unit with a pump.

“In fact, it saves so much energy that you can add another pump to drive the water side of the loop, and in the net, you are still saving energy,” Hensley said.

MU assistant professor James Bryan serves as Hensley’s academic adviser and encouraged him to pursue the project, which Hensley said is one-third complete.

“This project is an idea I have had for a couple of years,” Bryan said. “He was an undergrad in one of my courses, and I was looking for students to help me with some research.”

Although Hensley is paid as a research assistant by MU, Bryan urged him to apply for the grant.

The $4,000 will work the same way as a scholarship: It goes toward Hensley’s education and any related expenses. The money comes from the American Public Power Association’s Demonstration of Energy Efficiency Development program.

Only 10 students throughout the nation are selected to receive money each year, and this was the city’s first time to sponsor a student’s application.

“Water and Light has always been involved in energy-efficiency programs,” Worley said. “It seemed a very doable project, one that would benefit our customers and customers across the United States.”

Hensley’s research shows that the spray method is 30 percent more efficient than traditional units.

“It’s like when you take a shower in the winter, and when you wake up in the morning the bathroom is freezing,”Hensley said. “But you put millions of drops of water in the air, and you notice when you step out of the bathroom, the air is warm.” He said it’s a loose analogy to show how direct contact with the air is the key.

Hensley received a mechanical engineering degree from MU and is now working on his master’s. He plans to get a doctorate as well.

“He’s an exceptional student and possesses quite a bit of potential,” Bryan said.

With any new research and design, there has been a tendency for companies to want to maintain the traditional air-conditioning systems. But Hensley’s research using direct sprayers has shown promise. “It could be as widespread as conventional systems,” he said.

And his experience with air conditioning may not end with his education.

“If this is promising, then maybe I can develop it after I graduate,” Hensley said. “If it doesn’t pan out, I will just get a job. You can always fall back on teaching.”

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