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[en] Highlights: •Thermodynamic principles are applied to systematically compare three technologies. •Merits and limits of standalone versus integrated designs are identified. •Effect of climate conditions on performance and technology selection is evaluated. •Integrated desiccant/membrane technologies outperform current state-of-the-art VCS. -- Abstract: Recently, next-generation HVAC technologies have gained attention as potential alternatives to the conventional vapor-compression system (VCS) for dehumidification and cooling. Previous studies have primarily focused on analyzing a specific technology or its application to a particular climate. A comparison of these technologies is necessary to elucidate the reasons and conditions under which one technology might outperform the rest. In this study, we apply a uniform framework based on fundamental thermodynamic principles to assess and compare different HVAC technologies from an energy conversion standpoint. The thermodynamic least work of dehumidification and cooling is formally defined as a thermodynamic benchmark, while VCS performance is chosen as the industry benchmark against which other technologies, namely desiccant-based cooling system (DCS) and membrane-based cooling system (MCS), are compared. The effect of outdoor temperature and humidity on device performance is investigated, and key insights underlying the dehumidification and cooling process are elucidated. In spite of the great potential of DCS and MCS technologies, our results underscore the need for improved system-level design and integration if DCS or MCS are to compete with VCS. Our findings have significant implications for the design and operation of next-generation HVAC technologies and shed light on potential avenues to achieve higher efficiencies in dehumidification and cooling applications.