The Ames Laboratory at Iowa State will be leading a major effort to develop a commercial application for caloric cooling, said to be more efficient and quieter than conventional cooling.
While natural refrigerants offer an efficient and environmentally beneficial alternative to conventional halocarbon refrigerants in vapour-compression refrigeration, a totally different kind of cooling technology may ultimately prove to be even more efficient and friendly to the environment.
That technology is called magneto-caloric cooling, in which certain solid materials heat up when placed in a magnetic field and cool down when they are removed from the field.
Magneto-caloric cooling is the most developed form of what is called caloric cooling, a process that was discovered in the 1800s and also includes mechano-caloric cooling and electro-caloric cooling. The technology has undergone development over the decades, but not to the point of commercialisation.
However, starting 1 July, the Ames Laboratory at Iowa State will be leading an effort called CaloriCool to develop a commercial application for magneto-caloric cooling and other forms of caloric cooling. The Ames Laboratory, which operates under the United States Department of Energy, has previously done important research into magneto-caloric cooling.
The Ames Laboratory will be collaborating with eight other national labs in the CaloriCool programme. “This is truly a major effort – a multimillion-dollar programme to develop caloric cooling to the point of commercial application,” said Dr. Joseph Sebranek, distinguished professor of animal science at Iowa State University, at a 'Scientists Speak' session at the IARW-WFLO Convention, held on 16-19 April in Las Vegas.
“This may well lead to something very interesting in terms of changes in the way we accomplish cooling and freezing,” he added.
Technology based on caloric cooling is estimated to save 20% to 35% in energy consumption compared to a standard vapour-compression system, said Sebranek. And by eliminating compressors, caloric cooling reduces noise, vibration and mechanical maintenance, as well as the risks of refrigerant leaks, he added.
Over the past 40 years, “several systems have been built to show that the concept [of caloric cooling] is functional,” said Sebranek. But the concept is still not practical, he added. “There are some barriers to development at the commercial [level]. But it can be done – and that’s the critical first step.”
The objectives of the CaloriCool programme include:
Creating acceptable materials to overcome the limitations in currently available commercial products, such as corrosion.
Designing a demonstration facility to show the performance of materials.
Determining the economics of developing this material on a production basis.
Developing a technology transfer process for commercial applications. “Substituting for vapor compression technology is going to take some significant transfer,” said Sebranek.
Producing appropriate economic and environmental impact statements.
Some progress has already been made towards the commercialisation of magneto-caloric cooling. Materials capable of producing the magneto-caloric effect (heating and cooling) include an alloy of lanthanum, iron and silicon (Calorivac, from Vacuumschmelze in Germany), and an alloy of manganese, iron, phosphorus and silicon (Quice, from BASF in Germany).
BASF, Haier and the Astronautics Corp. of America displayed a wine cooler using a magneto-caloric heat pump at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2015, while Cooltech showcased a medical fridge employing magnetic refrigeration at the MEDICA show last November.
Cooltech recently discussed the technology at ATMOsphere Europe in Barcelona, Spain.