Tech to reinvent the outdoor fan

A start-up backed by Singapore’s state investment firm is trying to make staying cool in the tropics a little greener.

Phononic, a Durham, North Carolina-based company, has installed eight of its bladeless fans in Singapore for a trial period before aiming to start commercial sales in the second half of 2020, according to Chief Executive Officer Tony Atti. It’s hoping to convince businesses from riverfront restaurants to amusement parks to switch from traditional outdoor fans, which it says consume more electricity.

How cities choose to cool themselves is becoming an increasingly important climate question because it can drive future energy demand and carbon emissions. The cooling required about 6% of the world’s energy use in 2016 and contributed more than 1 billion tons of carbon emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. That’s expected to grow as populations in warmer climates expand and become wealthy enough to afford more cooling. SP Group, the city-state’s main utility, has said it sees cooling solutions as “mission-critical.”

“The growth areas around the tropics have every right to the same quality of life as everyone else,” Atti said in an interview. “They shouldn’t be put in the awkward position of choosing between comfort or climate.”

Phononic is targeting outdoor fans, a small portion of that sector, with a bladeless design that uses between 25% to 60% less electricity than existing models, Atti said. Phononic’s fan, which looks like a high-tech suction cup, pulls up air through a central pump and then circulates it past a series of semi-conductor panels that separate warmer and cooler air, venting the warmer air into the sky and shooting cooler air down toward people underneath. The company didn’t provide cost details for the units but said the competitiveness against current commercial-scale fans would come partly from long-term cost savings by using lower electricity, as well as aesthetics. Temasek Foundation, invested $1 million in the company to help develop the project, known as Outdoor Active Cooling in Singapore.

By Dan Murtaugh

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