FAU’s I-SENSE and Dioxide Materials™ Partner on Novel Sensors for Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) Applications

By Gisele Galoustian | July 14, 2016

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FAU’s I-SENSE and Dioxide Materials™ Partner on Novel Sensors for Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) Applications

Just as the summer is heating up, Florida Atlantic University’s Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE) and Dioxide Materials™ have formed a unique partnership to develop and evaluate a novel low-cost, low-power, wireless CO2 sensing system for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) applications. The technology that emerges from this joint project will help to significantly lower the amount of energy businesses and homes use for HVAC.

Located in the Research Park at FAU, Dioxide Materials™, in collaboration with FAU’s I-SENSE, has received a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to work on the project. This project builds on a private/public partnership that leverages the complementary skill sets and associated innovations of both organizations.

Dioxide Materials™ has developed low-cost, low-power CO2 sensors for building HVAC applications. Their technology employs electrochemical sensors, similar to those in a household carbon monoxide (CO) alarm, making the sensor sensitive to carbon dioxide rather than carbon monoxide. The sensors can be manufactured much less expensively than the current generation of CO2 sensors and can run on batteries.

Currently, Dioxide Materials™ has working sensors, but needs the electronics and communications systems to connect the sensors to a building’s direct digital control (DDC) systems. I-SENSE is a leader in the design and application of low-cost, low-power telemetry platforms and sensor network systems. Together, the team will develop the electronics and software necessary to interface Dioxide Materials’ sensors to a building’s DDC system. This new technology will help to lower the amount of energy homes and businesses use for HVAC based on whole-building CO2 monitoring without the need for expensive building rewiring.

Most current HVAC systems are designed to supply constant ventilation based on the design occupancy of the space. However, this method often results in significant wastes of energy and energy dollars. Demand control ventilation (DCV), the automated process that adjusts the volume of fresh air or outside air into a building, saves energy and electricity costs by using CO2 sensors to measure the air quality and occupancy in each room, and adjusting the HVAC system accordingly. Although DCV is often seen in the construction of new multisensory LEED buildings, it has been slow to be adopted in commercial retrofits or remodeling projects, small commercial buildings and residential complexes.

"Our project will focus on robust, networked CO2 sensing and HVAC system integration; we are excited to partner with Dioxide Materials™ to help them develop and test these innovative CO2 sensors," said Jason Hallstrom, Ph.D., director of FAU's I-SENSE and a professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at FAU. "We expect this technology to substantially reduce the costs that are associated with installing DCV systems in commercial and residential buildings."

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, demand control ventilation using CO2 sensors could reduce the energy costs of heating and cooling a building by 10 to 30 percent.

"By leveraging our expertise with FAU's I-SENSE scientists and engineers, we can have a tremendous impact on reducing energy waste in buildings,” said Rich Masel, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Dioxide Materials™. “Having CO2 sensors in each room so that cooling and heating are based on the number of people in the room rather than running at a constant temperature, will prevent energy losses from over ventilation, while maintaining indoor air quality."

FAU's I-SENSE is a leader in the design and application of low-cost, low-power telemetry platforms and sensor network systems. I-SENSE serves as a clearinghouse for sensing, communication, and data management technologies, providing expertise, engineering support, and project management services through its research, engineering and administrative cores.  

Dioxide Materials™ is developing a new generation of low-cost, low-powered CO2 electrochemical sensors for demand controlled ventilation (DCV) of HVAC systems. The devices are microscale versions of the CO2 electrolyzers being developed for CO2 conversion and use the company’s patent pending CO2 conversion catalysts to create an electrical signal that is proportional to the amount of CO2 in the air. Dioxide Materials' low-power CO2 sensors meet the battery operating lifetime requirement, eliminating the need for costly rewiring, and, unlike infrared-based sensors, are compatible with wireless thermostats.