When air is supplied to a conditioned space, the temperature and humidity of the air often contribute to the comfort and health of the occupants within the space. However, the vapor compression system, which is the standard air conditioning configuration, requires air to reach the dew point for dehumidification to occur, which can decrease system efficiency and longevity in low temperature applications.
To improve performance, some systems dehumidify the air before cooling. One common dehumidifier is the desiccant wheel, in which solid desiccant absorbs moisture out of the air while rotating through circular housing. This system improves performance, especially when the desiccant is regenerated with waste or solar heat; however, the heat of regeneration is very large, as the water absorbed during dehumidification must be evaporated. N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAAm), a sorbent that oozes water when raised above a certain temperature, could potentially replace traditional desiccants in dehumidifiers. The heat of regeneration for NIPAAm consists of some sensible heat to bring the sorbent to the regeneration temperature, plus some latent heat to offset any liquid water that is evaporated as it is exuded from the NIPAAm. This means the NIPAAm regeneration heat has the potential to be much lower than that of a traditional desiccant.
Models were created for a standard vapor compression air conditioning system, two desiccant systems, and two theoretical NIPAAm systems. All components were modeled for simplified steady state operation. For a moderate percent of water evaporated during regeneration, it was found that the NIPAAm systems perform better than standard vapor compression. When compared to the desiccant systems, the NIPAAm systems performed better at almost all percent evaporation values. The regeneration heat was modeled as if supplied by an electric heater. If a cheaper heat source were utilized, the case for NIPAAm would be even stronger.
Future work on NIPAAm dehumidification should focus on lowering the percent evaporation from the 67% value found in literature. Additionally, the NIPAAm cannot exceed the lower critical solution temperature during dehumidification, indicating that a NIPAAm dehumidification system should be carefully designed such that the sorbent temperature is kept sufficiently low during dehumidification.