One of the key themes in Amory Lovins’ series of talks on energy efficiency in buildings is the energy lost when pumping fluids. At DEMO today, a company called Microstaq showed a silicon-based valve that promises to dramatically reduce the power required to move fluids through air conditioning and refrigeration systems. Current refrigerant expansion valves, controlled thermostatically or by step motors, are imprecise and waste a surprising amount of electricity. Microstaq’s Silicon Expansion Valve, an electronically actuated device, delivers more precise control for far less power — a savings of 25%, the company claims.
“We married two different industries that weren’t even dating,” said CEO Sandeep Kumar. When you look at the gadget, which embeds a silicon chip into a plumbing fixture, it’s easy to see what he means. It’s a pipe fitting with a brain.
When we think about how electronics can improve energy efficiency, the notion of an energy web, or electranet, often comes up. And there’s no doubt we need a modernized power grid that acts more like a digital network. But Lovins reminds us that we’re not just pushing electrons around, we’re pushing immense volumes of fluids. Semiconductor-based flow control technologies, applied rather straightforwardly to hydraulic systems, can produce major efficiency gains.