Researchers develop new cooling mechanism for refrigeration

By Sustainability Matters

Approximately one-fifth of the world’s electric energy is dedicated to refrigeration, and the International Energy Agency anticipates that the number of air-conditioning units in the world will increase twofold by 2040. Despite a century of advancements, most existing refrigeration systems emit greenhouse gases and can produce significant noise.

A team of researchers from the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) developed a technology with the potential to transform future refrigeration systems. Published in Science, their research details the mechanism, which focuses on using the electrocaloric effect — a phenomenon wherein a material undergoes a reversible temperature alteration when subjected to an electric field — to achieve the desired result.

In this case, the electrocaloric effect involves applying an electric field to ceramic capacitors, inducing temperature changes and creating a cooling effect.

Dr Emmanuel Defay, who leads the Nanotechnology unit in LIST’s Materials Research and Technology department, said, “Our proposed solution involves an assembly of multilayer capacitors stacked within an electrically connected fluid-filled pipe. The fluid flows back and forth between the capacitors, creating a temperature gradient.”

This assembly, called a regenerator, is designed to replace the conventional compressor and fluids in current refrigerators, providing a cooling solution that is more energy-efficient and sustainable.

The potential applications for the technology could also extend beyond refrigeration and include air conditioning.

“Our research was previously detailed in an article in Science three years ago. We have achieved significant milestones since then, with our latest paper showcasing promising developments, notably regarding energy efficiency and scale-up solutions.

“While we are already making tangible progress, we are continually working to enhance the maturity and practicality of our technology. The ultimate goal is to offer a viable and sustainable alternative to current refrigeration solutions,” Defay said.

The team is currently engaging with various companies to explore practical applications. Indicatively, the regenerator was designed in collaboration with the Japanese manufacturing company Murata.

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