Researchers at the University of Maryland are developing a new "thermally elastic" metal alloy for use in advanced refrigeration and air conditioning systems. The technology promises far greater efficiency and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The Maryland team will soon begin testing of a prototype system, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. General Electric Global Research and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are partnering with UMD on the project.
"The approach is expected to increase cooling efficiency 175 percent, reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 250 million metric tons per year, and replace liquid refrigerants that can cause environmental degradation in their own right," says Eric Wachsman, director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC).
The team has developed a solid coolant to take the place of fluids used in conventional refrigeration and air conditioning compressors. In the next phase of research, the team will test the commercial viability of their smart metal for space cooling applications. The 0.01-ton prototype is intended to replace conventional vapor compression cooling technology. Instead of fluids, it uses a solid-state material - their thermoelastic shape memory alloy.
This two-state alloy alternately absorbs or creates heat in much the same way as a compressor-based system, but uses far less energy. Also, it has a smaller operational footprint than conventional technology, and avoids the use of fluids with high global warming potential.
Wachsman, who has been on the job at Maryland for about eight months, is working to make UMERC the campus focal point of interdisciplinary energy research.