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Lookout Carrier, here comes Delphi

Delphi Corp. has bolted a pair of bulky metal boxes to the roof of Plant 7 at its Lockport complex.

For the workers inside the plant, the boxes send a stream of cool air that provides a break from temperatures that can exceed 100 degrees.

For Delphi, the demonstration of the cooling system -- which was developed by Lockport's thermal engineering center and unveiled this week at a trade show in California -- exemplifies a push into new business outside the auto industry.

It's about "being able to translate our many years of expertise in automotive technology into applications . . . for nonautomotive industries," said Joseph Dunlop, commercial manager of Delphi Thermal Energy Systems.

Troy, Mich.-based Delphi, the former parts arm of General Motors, filed for bankruptcy reorganization in October 2005 and is seeking capital investments to restructure.

Delphi officials wouldn't talk about the size of the nonauto thermal business, but said it is a growing area with high potential. The size of the market for air-conditioning heat-exchange components is about $10 billion, Dunlop said.

Delphi's HMX -- for heat and mass exchanger -- cuts energy consumption by up to 75 percent compared to conventional air conditioners, the company said. The system uses the evaporation of water -- the same cooling principle your body uses when you sweat -- instead of energy-intensive compressors.

Delphi unveiled its Lockport demonstration system last week at the West Coast Energy Management Congress in Long Beach, Calif.

"With the HMX, we're able to provide a comfort level without the high operating costs required to run a traditional . . . air system," Dunlop said.
The Lockport plant complex employs about 3,000 people, most of whom make radiators and air-conditioner parts for General Motors cars and trucks. But an engineering group based here has increasingly been turning its eye to thermal engineering projects in other industries.

In 2004 Delphi started supplying water-cooling systems for Apple PCs, and has supplied air-conditioner parts to system maker York International. While manufactured outside of the U.S., the systems were largely designed by the engineering group in Western New York.

Delphi manufactures the HMX heat exchange cores at its plant in Rio Bravo, Mexico. It supplies them to makers of cooling systems including Seasons4 in Georgia and Evapco in Minnesota.

Evaporative coolers aren't new. Versions called "swamp coolers" have long been used to generate a stream of cool, moist air, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Swamp coolers can reduce the temperature of outside air by as much as 30 degrees. They use fans to blow air across a watery surface -- the air cools as water evaporates.

Delphi's system eliminates the moisture in the cool air stream, Dunlop said. Instead of blowing the damp air into the building, another stream of air is cooled by being passed alongside the damp stream, separated by a membrane. The moist air vents outside the building.

Because it cools best in hot weather, evaporative technology is attractive for cutting peak demand in electric power-strapped areas like California.

"As the temperature goes up outside, the amount of cooling we can provide increases," Dunlop said. By contrast, conventional air conditioners draw more power and lose efficiency in hot weather.

The cooling technology has won recognition for environmental friendliness. One commercial system called the "Coolerado Cooler" that uses Delphi thermal components was named a Top 10 green building product last year in Environmental Building News.

The pair of HMX-based units being demonstrated at Lockport will each deliver 20,000 cubic feet of cool air a minute, plant manager Scott Kitkowski said.

The plant, which fashions plastic parts, previously had no cooling system, he said. "The HMX will provide welcome cool air."

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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