Art Rothman, former oil and gas employee and owner of Red Mountain Inn, explains how harnessing cool ditch water to chill the air conditioners in this guest rooms saves him $1,500 per year.

After 28 years as a driller in the oil and gas industry, working his way from the bottom, Art Rothman had made up his mind: “I wasn’t going to keep feeding the energy companies.” He took his driller’s instincts in mechanics and fluid dynamics and put them to work innovating an air conditioning system that harnesses water rather than electricity to keep cool. The ex-gas man turned entrepreneur is projected to save almost 15,000 kilowatts this summer, disrupting the status quo energy cycle that most businesses rely on.

Rothman and his wife now own the Red Mountain Inn in Glenwood Springs, lodging that he describes as having the feel of “a secluded alpine community,” though it’s just minutes away from downtown. Almost eight years ago he was wrestling with the chiller — a unit in a conventional AC system that chills the water — a key component in the air conditioning system. Not more than three feet away from where he stood, cold water from the surrounding mountains flowed through a ditch, across Art’s property and into the Colorado River. An idea hit him: could this mountain-fed ditch water replace the eight-ton, electricity-guzzling machine he was using to keep his guests cool in the summer? It took some elbow grease, imagination, and grit — not to mention securing a water right — but he did just that.

In a traditional AC system, the majority of the electricity (95-98%) is used to run the condenser unit, which in short, creates the cooling effect that we all know and love. Rothman’s idea preserves only the distribution part of the original cooling system — the part that uses almost no electricity. A small pump moves a mixture of water and antifreeze through pipes throughout the building. As the piped mixture reaches each guest room, a fan blows across a coil of these pipes, providing cold, crisp air!

The linchpin of the system is the temperature of that piped liquid mixture: the colder the liquid is, the colder the blown air is. Rothman took temperature readings of the flowing water over the course of a summer, even in the hottest July days, and found it consistently ringing in at about 52 or 53˚F. He describes the holding tanks as a “bank of coolness”, where the fluid that was used to provide the cool air inside the building is returned to transfer its heat back into the colder ditch water, which in effect cools the fluid for another trip back into the building to provide more cool air. The only electricity required for this process is a small circulation pump to keep the water moving.

This tinkerer and creative thinker has found the ideal solution to cool his building. “It really works and I want people to know that.” He’s using the oldest technology in the books, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. This project was almost a decade in the making.

The green pipe diverts ditch water and channels it into the two underground water holding tanks.

“CORE’s support and financial backing really made the project viable,” said Rothman.

The project was awarded $10,000 from CORE. He continues, “I might never have completed this project without the knowledge that those people had my back.” We weren’t the only ones who had Rothman’s back: with help from CLEER, SGM assessed the feasibility of the concept.

The long wait and hard work was all worth it for Rothman. “I couldn’t stand the thought of replacing the chiller with another one while the water kept flowing by me.” This new system allows Rothman to do more with less: temperature readings show that the circulating water is now a whopping 4 degrees Fahrenheit less than what it was under the traditional AC system — all while saving money and energy.

You may not have ditch water running through your property but we’ll bet there are ways that you can use resources more efficiently. Marty Treadway, CORE’s Program Director, hopes Rothman’s story is a “spark to trigger ideas around how to use what nature provides and connect the environment to energy.” Marty even has some other ideas to get you going: you may have an opportunity to use winter’s cold temperatures to cool a refrigerating unit, harness the sun to dry your clothes, or make the most out of natural light.

Ideas and inspiration, that’s something Rothman has in spades. In fact, he’s already onto his next projects: using ditch water for irrigation and reinvigorating a broken solar thermal system.

Do you want to ditch fossil fuels? CORE can help you. We will put our time, energy and, yes, even money, where your ideas are. Share your creative solutions to use resources more efficiently with us today: give us a call at (970) 925-9775.

What’s right with this picture? The condenser unit (left) is not connected anymore to the supply pipe (right).