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An earlier form of evaporative cooling, the windcatcher, was first used in ancient Egypt and Persia thousands of years ago in the form of wind shafts on the roof. Passive evaporative cooling techniques in buildings have been a feature of desert architecture for centuries, but Western acceptance, study, innovation, and commercial application is all relatively recent. Goettl noticed how evaporative cooling technology works in arid climates, speculated that a combination unit could be more effective, and invented the “High Efficiency Astro Air Piggyback System”, a combination refrigeration and evaporative cooling air conditioner. Evaporative coolers lower the temperature of air using the principle of evaporative cooling, unlike typical air conditioning systems which use vapor-compression refrigeration or absorption refrigerator. A simple example of natural evaporative cooling is perspiration, or sweat, secreted by the body, evaporation of which cools the body. Vapor-compression refrigeration uses evaporative cooling, but the evaporated vapor is within a sealed system, and is then compressed ready to evaporate again, using energy to do so. A simple evaporative cooler’s water is evaporated into the environment, and not recovered.

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A closely related process, sublimation cooling, differs from evaporative cooling in that a phase transition from solid to vapor, rather than liquid to vapor, occurs. Sublimation cooling has been observed to operate on a planetary scale on the planetoid Pluto, where it has been called an anti-greenhouse effect. Another application of a phase change to cooling is the “self-refrigerating” beverage can. A separate compartment inside the can contains a desiccant and a liquid. Just before drinking, a tab is pulled so that the desiccant comes into contact with the liquid and dissolves.

Before the advent of refrigeration, evaporative cooling was used for millennia. 2500 BC show slaves fanning jars of water to cool rooms. Evaporative cooling is a common form of cooling buildings for thermal comfort since it is relatively cheap and requires less energy than other forms of cooling. The colored lines illustrate the potential of direct and indirect evaporative cooling strategies to expand the comfort range in summer time. It is mainly explained by the combination of a higher air speed on one hand and elevated indoor humidity when the region permits the direct evaporative cooling strategy on the other hand.

Evaporative cooling is most effective when the relative humidity is on the low side, limiting its popularity to dry climates. Evaporative cooling raises the internal humidity level significantly, which desert inhabitants may appreciate as the moist air re-hydrates dry skin and sinuses. Therefore, assessing typical climate data is an essential procedure to determine the potential of evaporative cooling strategies for a building. Evaporative cooling is especially well suited for climates where the air is hot and humidity is low. In locations with moderate humidity there are many cost-effective uses for evaporative cooling, in addition to their widespread use in dry climates.