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EXPERIMENTAL TESTS ON A POLYGENERATION SYSTEM WITH A

DESICCANT-BASED AHU

G. Angrisani
1
, C. Roselli, and M. Sasso
University of Sannio, Benevento, Italy
1
Corresponding author contacts:
e-mail address: giovanni.angrisani@unisannio.it
telephone number: +390824305576
fax number: +390824325246

ABSTRACT
This paper deals with a polygeneration system
with a desiccant-based Air Handling Unit (AHU).
In a test facility, located in Benevento, intense
experimental tests have been carried out on this
system, consisting of a MCHP (Micro Combined
Heat and Power) that supplies electric energy to
a chiller and thermal energy to regenerate a
Desiccant Wheel (DW) integrated in an Air
Handling Unit (AHU).
The tests allowed to investigate several aspects
of the polygeneration system.
First of all, the primary energy consumption of
the desiccant-based polygeneration system has
been evaluated, and a comparison with a
conventional one has been carried out. This
comparison revealed the operating conditions
(thermal-hygrometric outdoor conditions,
regeneration temperature and electric grid
efficiency) that allow to achieve primary energy
and carbon dioxide emissions savings.
Secondly, the effect of operating conditions on
the desiccant wheel effectiveness and on
ventilation and internal latent loads that it can
handle has been evaluated.
Finally, a theoretical model for the operation of
the desiccant wheel has been experimentally
validated. This model can be used to evaluate
the performance of the component in operating
conditions different from those experimentally
tested.
INTRODUCTION
In a conventional air conditioning system, air
used to balance sensible and latent loads is
cooled below dew-point temperature, typically
by means of an electric vapour compression
cooling device, in order to reduce humidity ratio.
Then it is reheated, by means of an electric
resistance or a fossil fuelled boiler, to the
desired supply temperature. On the other hand,
it is possible to use a desiccant-based air
handling unit to provide dehumidification of the
air. Desiccant liquid or solid materials
absorb/adsorb moisture due to differences in
vapor pressure between their surface and the air
flow to be dehumidified. Solid desiccants are
compact and less subjected to corrosion and
carryover, so their use is more common than
liquid desiccants. The most typical arrangement
consists of a slowly rotating wheel impregnated
with a desiccant like silica gel, in which a part of
the wheel is crossed by the incoming air stream
while the rest of it is being regenerated, by
means of a regeneration air flow, heated up to a
suitable temperature (from 60 up to 140C,
depending on the material and the desired
humidity ratio reduction) by either a natural gas
boiler or waste heat.
During the dehumidification process, air is
heated by the released adsorption heat, so it
has to be cooled down to the desired supply
temperature, for example by a cooling coil
interacting with an electrically or thermally
activated cooling machine.
The main benefits of this technology are
(Minichiello et al., 2010):
latent and sensible loads are separately
balanced (more accurate control on thermal-
hygrometric conditions of the indoor space);
significant reduction of primary energy
consumption and of greenhouse gas
emissions can be obtained;
the eventually used electric cooling device
has only to balance the sensible load of the
indoor space, so it is possible to reduce its
size, the mass of the working fluid and its
direct greenhouse effect contribution.
Thanks to these advantages, the use of the
desiccant technology is spreading also for
tertiary and residential buildings, irrespective of
the high specific investment cost and the low
familiarity with such technology.
Over 200 hours of tests were conducted in a test
facility, located in Benevento, consisting of a
MCHP that supplies electric energy to an air-
cooled water chiller and thermal energy to
regenerate a silica-gel desiccant wheel, to
evaluate its potential employment in residential
and small commercial buildings. The main
results are presented in this paper. In Figure 1,
temperature and humidity ratio of outdoor air
during tests are shown; Benevento reference
conditions are reported too (in red).
5
7
9
11
13
15
17
20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36
O
u
t
d
o
o
r

a
i
r

h
u
m
i
d
i
t
y

r
a
t
i
o

[
g
/
k
g
]
Outdoor air temperature [C]
Figure 1 Outdoor air and temperature and
humidity ratio during the tests

THE EXPERIMENTAL FACILITY
The main components of the experimental
facility, located at Sannio University (in
Benevento, Southern Italy), are the following:
- an air handling unit with a desiccant wheel
(process air flow rate: 800 m
3
/h);
- a MCHP (electric power 6.0 kW, thermal power
11.7 kW, electric efficiency 28.8%, thermal
efficiency 56.2%), based on a natural gas-fired
reciprocating internal combustion engine;
- an air-cooled chiller: cooling capacity 8.50 kW,
COP = 3.00;
- a natural gas-fired boiler: thermal power 24.2
kW, thermal efficiency 90.2%;
In Figure 2, the layout of the test facility is
shown. The following three airflows are present
(entirely drawn from the outdoor, state 1):
- process air: dehumidified in the DW, (1-2), pre-
cooled by interacting with the cooling air stream
in an air-to-air cross flow heat exchanger (23),
and finally cooled to the supply temperature by a
cooling coil connected to the chiller (34);
- regeneration air: heated by the heating coil
connected with the MCHP (1-5) and, when
necessary, by a further heating coil connected
with the boiler (56), in order to regenerate the
adsorbent material (67);
- cooling air: cooled by a direct evaporative
cooler (1-8) and then used to pre-cool the
process air exiting the DW (89).
The volumetric rates of the three airflows can be
controlled by means of manual shutters. When
these are at their maximum opening, the airflow
rates get their nominal values (800 m
3
/h).
PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT
METHODOLOGY
Firstly, the experimental tests allowed to
compare the energy and environmental
performances of the above described
polygeneration system (Alternative System, AS),
to the usually adopted Conventional System,
CS. In the latter, outdoor air is cooled and
dehumidified by an electric chiller powered by
the electric grid; then, it is reheated by a natural
gas-fired boiler. Auxiliaries and external electric
devices (lights, computers) are powered by
the electric grid.
According to the European Directive 2004/8/EC
and the Commission Decision of 21st December
2006, establishing harmonised efficiency
reference values for separate production of
electricity and heat, the reference energy
efficiencies for both electric grid and boiler has
been evaluated, with respect to Italy:
Electric grid:
eg
= 45.2%, CO
2
equivalent
emission = 0.531 kgCO
2
/kWh
el
(source: Italian
Environmental Ministry);
Boiler: efficiency = 90%, CO
2
equivalent
emission = 0.20 kgCO
2
/kWh
p
; natural gas
lower heating value = 9.59 kWh/Nm
3
.
The comparison is carried out assuming that
both AS and CS deliver equal energy (electric
and cooling energy; thermal energy recovered
from the MCHP is fully used to DW
regeneration). Moreover, the two systems
handle 800 m
3
/h of process air and operate at
the same outdoor and supply thermal-
hygrometric conditions. Refer to Angrisani et al.,
2011, for a more detailed description of the
energy flows of AS and CS. The Primary Energy
Saving, PES, has been considered for the
energy comparison (Dorer et al., 2007):
CS
p
AS
p
CS
p
E
E - E
= PES (1)
Furthermore, the avoided CO
2
equivalent
emissions of the alternative system with respect
to the conventional one have been evaluated
too, (Dorer et al., 2007):
CS
2
AS
2
CS
2
2
CO
CO - CO
= CO (2)
As regards the DW performance, the following
effectiveness definitions are used (Mandegari et
al., 2009; Daou et al., 2006; Kanoglu et al.,
2004; Van Den Buick et al., 1988):
thermal effectiveness
( )
( )
1 6
1 2
th
T - T
T - T
= (3)
regeneration effectiveness
( )
( )
1 6
vs 2 1
reg
h - h
h -
= (4)
dehumidification effectiveness
( )
1
2 1
deh

-
= (5)
adiabatic effectiveness

( )
1
1 2
ad
h
h - h
- 1 = (6)

Figure 2 The experimental facility layout

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
H
u
m
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d
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R
a
t
i
o

[
k
g

H
2
O
/
k
g

d
r
y

a
i
r
]
Dry Bulb Temperature [C]
PES>0
PES<0
RH = 100%
90%
80%
70%
60%
50%
40%
30%
20%
10%

Figure 3 Psychrometric chart showing the area where PES is <0 and that where PES is >0

RESULTS OF THE ANALYSIS
To highlight the influence of outdoor air
properties on the energy performances of AS
and CS, in Figure 3 outdoor air thermal-
hygrometric conditions that get a positive PES
are shown. The polygeneration system requires
less primary energy than the conventional
system for
1
lower than about 11.5 g/kg and T
1

in the range 25-36 C. For
1
> 11.5 g/kg, the
lower limit of the previous temperature range
increases: for
1
= 13.0 g/kg, AS is preferable
only for T
1
> 28 C. Finally, for
1
> 13.0 g/kg,
AS is no more energetically suitable.
The tests relating to these analysis have been
carried out with a fixed regeneration
temperature (65 C, the maximum value
obtainable by using the selected MCHP) and no
control strategies have been adopted in order to
control the supply humidity ratio.
Therefore, the AS obtains better energy
performance with respect to CS as outdoor
humidity ratio is low; in fact, when
1
is low (e.g.
8 10 g/kg), supply humidity ratio (
4
) is in the
range 4 5 g/kg, and to obtain such a low value
of
4
, the chiller in the CS has to work with a
very low chilled water temperature and
consequently a very reduced COP, (Angrisani et
al., 2011).
Obviously, PES also depends, although in a less
marked way, by outdoor air temperature; in
particular, AS achieves the maximum PES
(35%) for T
1
= 33.5 C and
1
= 8.0 g/kg,
(Angrisani G. et al., 2011). As regards CO
2
, it
ranges from 43% (when T
1
= 33.5 C and
1
=
8.0 g/kg) to -5% (when T
1
= 25.0 C and
1
= 16
g/kg).
The electric grid efficiency is a key factor in
energy comparisons between alternative and
conventional systems. In Figure 4, at constant
operating conditions (T
1
= 33.9 C,
1
= 10.3
g/kg, T
4
= 20.1 C,
4
= 6.50 g/kg), the influence
of
eg
on PES is reported. In the base case (
eg

= 45.2%), PES is about 22%; then it increases
with
eg
reduction, up to about 36%.
0
10
20
30
40
0.36 0.40 0.44 0.48 0.52 0.56 0.60
P
E
S

[
%
]
Electric grid efficiency [-]

Figure 4 PES as a function of
eg


Experimental tests successively focused on DW
performances; in Figure 5 the values of the
above-defined effectivenesses as a function of
regeneration temperature, T
reg
, are shown, for
fixed values of T
1
and
1
.
When the regeneration temperature rises, there
is an increase in dehumidification effectiveness,
thanks to the enhancement of the corresponding
desorption process. Moreover, the rise of T
reg

causes an increase in the heat losses from the
hot side of the DW (regeneration section) to
both the cold side (process section) and the
outdoor environment, due to enhanced
convective conductive heat transfer
mechanisms; moreover a stronger heating of the
matrix and of the desiccant material is also
caused. Thus, the regeneration effectiveness
decreases (the augmentation of the latent load
handled by the DW does not balance the
increase in the regeneration thermal power).
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
45 50 55 60 65 70


[
%
]
Regeneration temperature [C]
thermal
regeneration
adiabatic

1
= 13.0 g/kg
T
1
= 32.7 C

Figure 5 Desiccant wheel effectiveness as a
function of regeneration temperature

Furthermore, the enthalpy h
2
increases, causing
a light fall of the adiabatic effectiveness. Finally,
the consequent augmentation of T
2
is not able to
balance the increase of the regeneration
temperature, so the thermal effectiveness has a
descending behavior.
In Angrisani et al., 2010, the effectivenesses
trends as a function of outdoor air temperature
and humidity ratio are also shown.
The experimental data also allowed to estimate
the performance of the desiccant-based AHU in
handling the ventilation and internal latent loads
of a conditioned space.
To this aim, a previous analysis performed by
the authors showed that the process air
volumetric flow rate has a negligible influence on
the desiccant wheel performance (in terms of
dehumidification capability, i.e. the difference
between inlet and outlet humidity ratio, ) if the
following conditions are satisfied:
(a) the face velocity of the process air at the DW
inlet remains constant;
(b) the ratio between process air and
regeneration air flow rate is equal to 1, as in the
previously reported experimental analysis.
Therefore, in the following analysis, the
ventilation and internal latent loads are
expressed per unitary volumetric air flow rate,
considering indoor thermal-hygrometric
conditions characterized by T
r
= 25 C and
r
=
10.5 g/kg, and supply air temperature equal to
17 C; T
reg
is fixed to 65 C.
The outdoor design conditions herein
considered are based on the following data
(ASHRAE, 2009):
- design for cooling: 0.4% DBMCWB (Dry
BulbMean Coincident Wet Bulb), 1.0% DB
MCWB and 2.0% DBMCWB;
- design for dehumidification: 0.4% DPMCDB
(Dew PointMean Coincident Dry Bulb) and
1.0% DPMCDB.
The DBMCWB data represent outdoor
conditions of hot, mostly sunny days. They are
therefore commonly used in sizing cooling
equipment, such as chillers and cooling coils.
On the contrary, design conditions based on
dew point temperatures (DPMCDB) are directly
related to the highest values of humidity ratio,
which represent peak moisture loads from the
weather. These values are especially useful for
humidity control applications, hence in desiccant
cooling applications.
In Figure 6 and 7, the specific ventilation latent
load that can be handled by the DW for different
cities around the world is reported, for the DP-
MCDB conditions. The cities selected for the
analysis are characterized by outdoor air
thermal-hygrometric conditions included within
the range of experimental data available
As regards Figure 6, for those cities where the
DW is able to handle the entire required specific
ventilation latent load (L, proportional to
1
-
r
),
it is reported on the ordinate. On the contrary,
for those cities where the DW cannot entirely
balance L, only the fraction of L covered by the
DW (proportional to
1
-
s
, with
s

experimentally evaluated) is shown on the
ordinate and reported in percentage too. This
occurs for example in Athinai and Bologna.
As regards the experimental evaluation of
s

(the supply air humidity ratio), it is obtained for
each city by the experimental knowledge of the
desiccant wheel dehumidification capability ()
relative to a regeneration temperature of 65 C,
i.e.
s
=
1
- .
As regards Figure 7, the maximum specific
internal latent load that could be handled by the
desiccant wheel is presented. This load is
proportional to
r
-
s
, with
s
experimentally
evaluated as reported above.
Note that for the cities in which the ventilation
latent load cannot be completely handled by the
desiccant wheel (because
s
>
r
), no internal
latent load can be balanced by the wheel, such
that negative values are shown. In these cases,
the lower the ventilation latent load covered by
the DW with respect to the required value
(Figure 6), the higher the absolute value of the
internal latent load reported in Figure 7.
Thus, in these cases, a higher T
reg
is necessary.
In Angrisani et al., 2010, the results considering
DB-MCWB outdoor conditions are presented.
VALIDATION OF A THEORETICAL
MODEL OF THE DESICCANT WHEEL
In this section, the validation of an existing
theoretical model for the DW, on the basis of the
wide number of experimental tests available, is
presented.
The model of Maclaine-Cross and Banks has
been used (Maclaine-Cross et al., 1972).
This approach models the dehumidification
process, a combined heat and mass transfer
process, in analogy with a simple heat transfer
process. The analogy is expressed through the
combined potentials, F
1
and F
2
.
93%
84%
90%
90%
95%
90%
91%
98%
2
3
4
5
6
W
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/
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/
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L
i
m
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A
i
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o
S
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f
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v
e
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n

l
a
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t

l
o
a
d

h
a
n
d
l
e
d

b
y

t
h
e

D
W

[
W
/
(
m
3
/
h
)
]
0.4 % DP-MCDB 1.0 % DP-MCDB
Figure 6 Specific ventilation latent load handled by the desiccant wheel for various cities and for
different outdoor design thermal-hygrometric conditions (T
reg
= 65 C)

-1.0
-0.5
0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
2.0
2.5
3.0
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/
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[
W
/
(
m
3
/
h
)
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0.4 % DP-MCDB 1.0 % DP-MCDB

Figure 7 Specific internal latent load handled by the desiccant wheel for various cities and for different
outdoor design thermal-hygrometric conditions (T
reg
= 65 C)

They depend on thermo-hygrometric properties
of air and on the thermo-physical properties of
the wheel, especially the desiccant material
(Banks, 1985).
Two efficiency indices of the wheel,
1
F
and
2
F
, can be calculated in analogy to the
efficiency of a heat exchanger. In particular,
1
F

represents the degree to which the process
approximates the adiabatic one, while
2
F

represents the degree of dehumidification
(Jurinak, 1982). If
1
F
= 0 and
2
F
= 1, the
dehumidification process is ideal, i.e. it is
adiabatic and there is a maximum
dehumidification level for assigned geometry
and flow conditions.
If the values of
1
F
and
2
F
are known and a
relation explicitly describing the F
1
, F
2

dependence on T and is available, then
temperature and humidity ratio of the processed
air exiting the wheel can be evaluated. Jurinak
expressed such a relation for the working pair
air-silica gel:
8624 . 0
i 1.49
i
i 1,
) 1000 / 4.344( +
273.15) + (T
2865 -
= F (7)
0.07969
i
49 . 1
i
i 2,
/1000) 1.127( -
6360
) 15 . 273 + (T
= F (8)
1,1 1,6
1,1 1,2
F
F - F
F - F
=
1
(9)
2,1 2,6
2,1 2,2
F
F - F
F - F
=
2
(10)
The present work experimentally investigates
the assumption of constant efficiency factors, for
the range of operating conditions that cover the
available experimental data.
To this aim, the average value of the selected
DW efficiency factors is calculated for the total
number of available measurements (Panaras et
al., 2007).
The result of this analysis is
1
F
= 0.207 and
2
F
= 0.717. The quite low values of the
standard deviations (0.0460 and 0.0478,
respectively) suggests the validity of the
discussed assumption.
The previous analysis is confirmed by Figure 8,
in which the measured and simulated values for
process air humidity ratio exiting the desiccant
wheel,
2
, are shown. The agreement between
measured and simulated values is quite good.

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
S
i
m
u
l
a
t
e
d

h
u
m
i
d
i
t
y

r
a
t
i
o

v
a
l
u
e
s

[
g
/
k
g
]
Measured humidity ratio values [g/kg]
5% error band 2.5% error band

Figure 8 Measured and simulated values of
2

The validity of the assumed model is also
confirmed by the evaluation of the Root Mean
Standard Error (RMSE). This is used as a
quantitative index for the comparison of
experimental and simulated values (Panaras et
al., 2010). The RMSE for
2
is 0.301 g/kg. This
value is considered satisfactory, given the fact
that the proposed model aims to present a
simple tool for the analysis of the performance
of the selected DW.
The validated model of the DW allows for an
evaluation of several performance figure of
merit.
As reported in Slayzak et al., 2000, ASHRAE
defines Moisture Removal Capacity (MRC) as a
primary figure of merit for desiccant wheel
performance. It is defined as:
V = MRC
&
(11)
where is the density of the air, V
&
is the
process air volume flow rate and is the
difference in air humidity ratio between inlet and
outlet of the desiccant wheel.
Assuming V
&
= 800 m
3
/h and a regeneration air
temperature equal to 64 C (mean experimental
value), the DW model allows to evaluate at
the outlet conditions for each thermal-
hygrometric inlet condition. In Figure 9, MRC as
a function of outdoor air humidity ratio and for
different outdoor air temperature, is shown. The
capacity of the DW to remove water vapour from
the air increases when outdoor air humidity ratio
increases and when outdoor air temperature
decreases. These results are quantitatively and
qualitatively in good agreement with literature
(Enteria et al., 2010; Subramanyam et al.,
2004).


Figure 9 MRC as a function of outdoor humidity
ratio for different outdoor air temperature (T
1
)

CONCLUSIONS
In this paper, the results of over 200 hours of
experimental tests carried out on a
polygeneration system consisting of a desiccant-
based AHU interacting with a MCHP are
presented.
Experimental data showed that the proposed
system can guarantee sensible primary energy
and carbon dioxide equivalent emissions
savings (up to 35 and 43%, respectively). In
particular, energy and environmental
performances are strongly influenced by
thermal-hygrometric conditions and the
reference value of the electric grid efficiency.
Moreover, experimental tests also showed that
the desiccant-based AHU is able to handle the
whole ventilation latent load and a sensible
internal latent load for a wide number of cities all
over the world; where this is not the case, only
slight increase of the regeneration temperature
is needed.
Finally, the experimental tests allowed to
validate, with sufficient accuracy, a theoretical
model of the desiccant wheel, that can therefore
be used in whole-building simulations.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT
This work was developed in the framework of a
project promoted by International Energy
Agency (IEA), Annex 54, Integration of Micro-
generation and Related Energy Technologies in
Buildings.
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NOMENCLATURE
CO
2
carbon dioxide equivalent emissions
[kg/h]
E Energy [kJ]
h air enthalpy [kJ]
L specific ventilation latent load [W/(m
3
/h)]
MRC Moisture Removal Capacity [kg/h]
PES Primary Energy Saving [-]
T Temperature [C]
V
&
Volumetric flow rate [m
3
/h]
CO
2
avoided CO
2
equivalent emissions [-]
h
vs
water enthalpy of vaporization [kJ]
air humidity ratio variation [g/kg]
efficiency or effectiveness [-]
density [kg/m
3
]
air humidity ratio [g/kg]
AHU Air Handling Unit
AS Alternative System
CS Conventional System
DW Desiccant Wheel
MCHP Micro Combined Heat and Power
RMSE Root Mean Standard Error
Subscripts
ad adiabatic
deh dehumidification
eg electric grid
el electric energy
p primary energy
r indoor thermal-hygrometric conditions
s supply thermal-hygrometric conditions
reg regeneration
th thermal