VANCOUVER -- Researchers at the University of British Columbia have helped to develop a new technology to beat the summer heat, without relying on cranking an air conditioner. 

"Cold Tube" consists of chilled panels that work in open spaces while using less energy than conventional air conditioners, according to the project's co-lead Adam Rysanek, an assistant professor of environmental systems at UBC.

"Air conditioners work by cooling down and dehumidifying the air around us — an expensive and not particularly environmentally friendly proposition," he said, in a news release. 

"The Cold Tube works by absorbing the heat directly emitted by radiation from a person without having to cool the air passing over their skin. This achieves a significant amount of energy savings.”

Rysanek also says constant exposure to central air conditioning units can increase the risk of recirculating germs and can cause breathing problems. 

Given the ongoing pandemic, Rysanek said keeping indoor air healthy is more important now than ever. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the public’s awareness how sensitive our health is to the quality of the air we breathe indoors. Specifically, we know that some of the safest spaces in this ‘new normal’ are outdoor spaces,” he said. 

"As the climate changes and air conditioning becomes more of a global necessity than a luxury, we need to be prepared with alternatives that are not only better for the environment, but also our health. The idea of staying cool with the windows open feels a lot more valuable today than it did six months ago."

The Cold Tube was designed by a team of researchers from UBC, Princeton University, the University of California, Berkeley and the Singapore-ETH Centre.

It features ceiling panels that are kept cold by chilled water that is circulating within them. While researchers say these type of panels have been used for several decades, what makes the unit unique is that it doesn't need to be combined with a dehumidification system. 

"Because the Cold Tube can make people feel cool without dehumidifying the air around them, we can look towards shaving off up to 50 per cent of typical air conditioning energy consumption in applicable spaces," said Eric Teitelbaum, a senior engineer at AIL Research.

"This design is ready. It can obviously be used in many outdoor spaces—think open-air summer fairs, concerts, bus stops and public markets. But the mission is to adapt the design for indoor spaces that would typically use central air conditioning," he added.

The team plans to create a commercially viable version of the product by 2022.