The cooling revolution: a new mechanism to replace harmful technologies

Newswise — About one-fifth of the world's electricity is used for cooling, and the International Energy Agency expects the number of air conditioners to double by 2040. Despite the progress of the century, existing refrigeration systems that rely on vapor compression have reached their thermodynamic limit. These systems not only emit greenhouse gases, which contribute to environmental issues, but also generate significant noise. Thus, prioritizing the development of energy efficient and environmentally friendly systems is critical to addressing global warming and encouraging responsible use of natural resources.

Now, a team of researchers at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) has developed a technology that has the potential to transform future refrigeration systems. The latest phase of their research, published Science this weekdetails a mechanism that focuses on using the electrocaloric effect—a phenomenon in which a material undergoes a reversible temperature change when exposed to an electric field—to achieve the desired result.

In this particular case, the electrocaloric effect involves applying an electric field to ceramic capacitors, causing temperature changes and creating a cooling effect. “Our proposed solution consists of an assembly of multilayer capacitors arranged in an electrically connected liquid-filled tube,” explains Dr. Emmanuel Defey, who heads the Nanotechnology Unit in the Department of Materials Research and Technology at LIST. Defey and his team have been working on electrocaloric materials for several years. “The liquid flows back and forth between the condensers, creating a temperature gradient,” he adds.

This assembly, called a regenerator, could eventually replace the conventional compressor and environmentally harmful fluids in current refrigerants, providing a more energy-efficient and sustainable cooling solution. Indeed, energy efficiency is another major advantage of this technology.

Potential applications for this technology extend beyond refrigeration, including air conditioning. “Our research was previously detailed in an article in Science three years ago. Since then we have achieved significant milestones, with our latest work showing promising developments, particularly in energy efficiency and scalable solutions. “

The Defay team is currently actively engaged with various companies to explore practical applications of the technology, which is an important step towards implementing the solution. In particular, the regenerator was created in cooperation with the Japanese manufacturing company Murata.

“While we have already made tangible progress, we are constantly working to improve the maturity and practicality of our technology. The ultimate goal is to offer a viable and sustainable alternative to current refrigeration solutions,” Defay concludes.

Dr. Damien Lenoble, Director of the MRT Department, said: “Tackling energy-related challenges has been among our research priorities for the past five years. It is essential to demonstrate the applicability of our latest materials in technologies that use energy efficiently, produce and store green hydrogen, enhance energy efficiency and reduce overall energy demand. The transformation of cutting-edge research conducted at LIST into practical and disruptive technologies is a cornerstone of renewed industrial leadership in Europe, all while maintaining the highest environmental standards. This particular technology, developed under the leadership of Dr. Emmanuel Defey, is one of several special contributions from LIST that reinforces Luxembourg's reputation as a center for research-driven innovation with significant added value for both the country and Europe.