What is Adiabatic Cooling?

air conditioning compressors on a roof

Adiabatic cooling is also known as indirect evaporative cooling, which is a very science-y sounding term. Basically, it's a type of cooling that uses pressure to cool air without creating excess moisture. This highly energy-efficient tech is currently used primarily in large, industrial spaces, but someday it might have more residential applications.

How It Works

Through adiabatic cooling, water evaporation happens on the output air side of an air conditioning device. This causes the warm air to be cooled. The air is cooled through heat recovery, using the evaporated water to cool the air without creating an increase in moisture in the air going into the home.

Sounds complicated, right? Well, the system is actually super simple. Hot air rises more quickly than cool air. As it rises, it expands and cools. The higher up you go, the colder it gets. This is why tall mountains may be snow-capped even on the hottest day in August. The higher up air goes, the colder it gets.

Adiabatic cooling is designed to harness the natural properties of air and channel them. The system captures rising hot air, forcing it to expand or compress so that it cools down.

evaporative cooler on a roof

The system uses evaporative coolers, which are essentially big fans that pull water over pads. The water evaporates, which chills the air that's being blown into your home when the system is turned on. The more humid it is outside, the more water gets pulled into those pads, which allows them to chill the hot air that is being fed into the system through the outside world.

Because of the way the system works, the system provides less of a cooling effect when the outside air is cooler and dryer. This is because absorbs less humidity, which creates less evaporation. This creates less cooling power.

It’s all science stuff, but it’s not so complicated once you get an idea of how it works. In fact, the system is very straightforward and operates on pretty simple scientific principles. It harnesses the natural properties of air and uses a very simple method to draw in the air, cool it, and blow it out again.

diagram of adiabatic cooling

Who Uses Adiabatic Cooling?

Because the air is cooled by water, adiabatic systems are ideal for hot, dry environments. This is why these systems are used in coolers and condensers. These systems have become increasingly popular for data centers. Adiabatic systems use less water than comparable systems because it draws water from the surrounding air. This makes these systems an environmentally friendly alternative to some of the other available options. This has made adiabatic systems increasingly popular as environmental concerns rise.

Adiabatic systems are not wholly dependant on humidity. In most climates, these systems can run dry for 85 percent of the year. The system switches easily from evaporative cooling to dry air cooling.

In addition to consuming less water, adiabatic systems consume less energy than other types of air-cooled systems.

Adiabatic systems have been in use in data centers for years and have grown more popular in that time. But more recently, mechanical equipment is now being built with adiabatic system cooling. These systems are finding their way into appliances, equipment, and many more places.

adiabatic humidity cooler suspended from a warehouse ceiling

Keeping Cool

Some climates would not be habitable without the benefits of heating and cooling. But as every homeowner knows, energy bills have a way of climbing and climbing and climbing. Sometimes, you have to use a lot of energy to combat the forces of foul nature. This ends up burning a lot of whatever your utility company uses to provide energy, whether it’s coal, natural gas, oil or a renewable resource. Any system that consumes fewer resources is a step in the right direction.

Who knows? Maybe adiabatic cooling systems will be adapted for more residential use. These systems have already proven themselves on big-scale and small-scale designs and they’re finding wider and wider usage across multiple industries. Perhaps adiabatic cooling designs will become the norm for residential use one day and they’ll be so common, everyone will know how they work!