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Cooling revolution: a new mechanism to replace harmful technologies

About a fifth of the world’s electrical energy is dedicated to refrigeration, and the International Energy Agency predicts a doubling of the number of air conditioning units by 2040. Despite a century of progress, cooling systems Existing refrigeration systems, based on vapor compression, have reached their thermodynamic threshold. These systems not only emit greenhouse gases, contributing to environmental problems, but also produce significant noise. Prioritizing the development of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly systems is therefore essential to combat global warming and encourage the responsible use of natural resources.

Today, a team of researchers from the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) has developed technology that could transform future refrigeration systems. Their last stage of research, Published in Science this weekdetails the mechanism, which focuses on using the electrocaloric effect – a phenomenon in which a material undergoes a reversible change in temperature when subjected to an electric field – to achieve the desired result.

In this particular case, the electrocaloric effect consists of applying an electric field to ceramic capacitors, inducing temperature changes and creating a cooling effect. “The proposed solution involves an assembly of multilayer capacitors stacked in an electrically connected fluid-filled pipe,” explains Dr Emmanuel Defay, who heads the nanotechnology unit within LIST’s Materials Research and Technology (MRT) department. Defay and his team have been working on electrocaloric materials for several years. “The fluid circulates between the capacitors, creating a temperature gradient,” he adds.

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

The potential applications of this technology extend beyond refrigeration, particularly in air conditioning. “Our research has already been detailed in an article published in Science three years ago. Since then, we’ve achieved significant milestones, with our latest article showcasing promising developments, particularly in energy efficiency and scaling solutions.

The Defay team is currently actively collaborating with various companies to explore practical applications of the technology, marking an important step towards implementing the solution. As an indication, the regenerator was designed in collaboration with the Japanese manufacturer Murata.

“While we are already making tangible progress, we are continually 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,” concludes Defay.

Dr Damien Lenoble, Director of the MRT Department, said: “Addressing energy challenges has been one of our research priorities over the past five years. It is imperative to demonstrate the applicability of our advanced materials in technologies that efficiently harness energy, produce and store green hydrogen, improve energy efficiency and reduce overall energy demand. Transforming the high-level research carried out at LIST into practical and disruptive technologies is the cornerstone of renewed industrial leadership in Europe, while adhering to the highest environmental standards. This particular technology, developed under the leadership of Dr Emmanuel Defay, represents one of LIST’s many exceptional contributions that strengthen Luxembourg’s reputation as a hub of research-based innovations with substantial added value for both the country and for Europe.

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