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 Researchers say they are three years away from the 'electrocaloric fridge'

Scientists at the National Physical Laboratory and Imperial College believe cooling using electric fields will be more environmentally friendly than vapour compression and more energy efficient than magnets. The researchers now want to hear from the cooling industry on the best application for the technology

Scientists at the National Physical Laboratory and Imperial College say they are working to make vapour compression methods of cooling a thing of the past

The new joint project sets out provide a more economical, energy efficient and environmentally friendly cooling alternative using the electrocaloric effect – changing the temperature of a material under an applied electric field. The team says they are on track to develop an electrocaloric refrigerator that will operate close to room temperature within three years.

The researchers believe the method would at a stroke avoid any of the environmental issues associated with refrigerants, while providing higher efficiency, lower energy technology than the compressor-based versions.

Maciej Rokosz, a PhD student at NPL said “An electrocaloric cooler could potentially deliver higher efficiency than vapour compression as the creation of an electric field requires less energy than the compression process to create the same level of cooling. It could also offer reduced size and weight, making it viable for applications like cooling electronics.”

Thermoelectric and magnetic cooling technologies have been put forward as environmentally-friendly alternatives to vapour compression. But the NPL and Imperial researchers say these technologies struggle to compete with vapour-compression because of intrinsically low energy efficiency and the need for large and/or expensive magnets.

Tatiana Correia, a scientist at NPL who is leading the project, added: “This project builds on considerable research and expertise that has been developed at NPL. Our experience in this area makes us confident that, over the next three years, we can develop the first electrocaloric refrigerator ever to operate close to room temperature”.

To support the electrocaloric cooling technology, NPL is also developing and leading a new multimillion pound project funded by European Metrology Research Programme, METCO (Metrology of Electro-Thermal Coupling) which brings together Europe’s leading research centres and industry to develop unique capabilities for the traceable and accurate measurements of electrocaloric effect in materials.

Ms Correia said: “We are confident that our design ideas, combined with the expertise we have at NPL and Imperial, will be able to develop a viable cooler. However we are very keen to hear from the industry, who can work with us to look at the different applications this could be applied to.”

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