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UMD Researchers’ Elastocaloric Cooling System Opens Door to Climate-Friendly AC

By Nancy Grund

Air conditioning, refrigeration and other cooling technologies account for more than 20 percent of today’s global electricity consumption, while the refrigerants they use have a global warming potential thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide. In a recent study in the journal Science, a team led by materials science and engineering Professor Ichiro Takeuchi and mechanical engineering professors Reinhard Radermacher and Yunho Hwang introduced a high-performance elastocaloric cooling system that could represent the next generation of cooling devices.

Takeuchi calls it “a completely different, completely green, environmentally friendly cooling technology, which bypasses chemical refrigerants to essentially rely on pushing and pulling pieces of metal to create cooling.” Caloric materials—including magnetocaloric, electrocaloric, and elastocaloric materials—can undergo phase transition and release, and absorb heat upon application of various fields and mechanical forces. The key feature is the compression and release of fatigue-resistant nickel-titanium (NiTi) tubes configured in a versatile, multi-mode heat exchange architecture.

“More than a decade ago, we were just playing with a NiTi wire,” Takeuchi said. “By stretching it, you could get a substantial cooling effect one could feel by hand. That was when we started thinking about applying the concept to a cooling device.” The lab’s subsequent work has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy for more than a decade.

The team says it’s possible to improve the performance of its system enough to make the technology commercially viable within several years. A current prototype can produce 200 watts of cooling capacity, enough to power a compact wine fridge, with plans to expand to window units, whole-house cooling systems and eventually, commercial HVAC systems.

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