Indirect evaporative cooling: Past, present and future potentials

Zhiyin Duan, Changhong Zhan, Xingxing Zhang, Mahmud Mustafa, Xudong Zhao, Behrang Alimohammadisagvand, Ala Hasan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review

340 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reported a review based study into the Indirect Evaporative Cooling (IEC) technology, which was undertaken from a variety of aspects including background, history, current status, concept, standardisation, system configuration, operational mode, research and industrialisation, market prospect and barriers, as well as the future focuses on R&D and commercialisation. This review work indicated that the IEC technology has potential to be an alternative to conventional mechanical vapour compression refrigeration systems to take up the air conditioning duty for buildings. Owing to the continuous progress in technology innovation, particularly the M-cycle development and associated heat and mass transfer and material optimisation, the IEC systems have obtained significantly enhanced cooling performance over those the decade ago, with the wet-bulb effectiveness of greater than 90% and energy efficiency ratio (EER) up to 80. Structure of the IEC heat and mass exchanger varied from flat-plate-stack, tube, heat pipe and potentially wave-form. Materials used for making the exchanger elements (plate/tube) included fibre sheet with the single side water proofing, aluminium plate/tube with single side wicked setting (grooved, meshed, toughed etc), and ceramic plate/tube with single side water proofing. Counter-current water flow relevant to the primary air is considered the favourite choice; good distribution of the water stream across the wet surface of the exchanger plate (tube) and adequate (matching up the evaporation) control of the water flow rate are critical to achieving the expected system performance. It was noticed that the IEC devices were always in combined operation with other cooling measures and the commonly available IEC related operational modes are (1) IEC/DEC system; (2) IEC/DEC/mechanical vapour compression system; (3) IEC/desiccant system; (4) IEC/chilled water system; and (5) IEC/heat pipe system. The future potential operational modes may also cover the IEC-inclusive fan coil units, air handle units, cooling towers, solar driven desiccant cycle, and Rankine cycle based power generation system etc. Future works on the IEC technology may focus on (1) heat exchanger structure and material; (2) water flowing, distribution and treatment; (3) incorporation of the IEC components into conventional air conditioning products to enable combined operation between the IEC and other cooling devices; (4) economic, environment and social impacts; (5) standardisation and legislation; (6) public awareness and other dissemination measures; and (7) manufacturing and commercialisation. All above addressed efforts may help increase the market ratio of the IEC to around 20% in the next 20 years, which will lead to significant saving of fossil fuel consumption and cut of carbon emission related to buildings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6823-6850
Number of pages28
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012
MoE publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


  • Effectiveness
  • Energy efficiency
  • Heat and mass exchanger
  • Heat and mass transfer
  • Indirect evaporative cooling
  • Research


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