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'Thermally-elastic' metal to cut summer CO2 emissions and electricity bills


July 21, 2010

UM researchers will test a prototype cooling system using a thermoelastic 'smart' metal th...

UM researchers will test a prototype cooling system using a thermoelastic 'smart' metal that is more efficient than current technology (Image: Keck Laboratory for Combinatorial Nanosynthesis and Multiscale Characterization/ UM)

Many readers would be familiar with the electrical blackouts that occur in the summer months resulting from the extra load placed on electricity supplies by air conditioners. A new “smart” metal being developed by researchers at the University of Maryland (UM) could help cool homes and refrigerate food 175 percent more efficiently than current technology, not only giving strained electricity networks a bit of relief, but also drastically cutting summer electricity bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

The lead researchers on the project, Ichiro Takeuchi, Manfred Wuttig and Jun Cui, materials science engineers in Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering, have developed a solid “thermally elastic” metal alloy to take the place of fluids used in conventional refrigeration and air conditioning compressors.

This two-state alloy alternately absorbs or creates heat in much the same way as a compressor-based system, but uses far less energy, the Maryland team explains. Also, it has a smaller operational footprint than conventional technology, and avoids the use of fluids with high global warming potential.

The Maryland team will soon begin testing of a prototype system that will allow them to assess the commercial viability of the smart metal for space cooling applications. The 0.01-ton prototype is intended to replace conventional vapor compression cooling technology using, instead of fluids, the team’s thermoelastic shape memory alloy.

"Air conditioning represents the largest share of home electric bills in the summer, so this new technology could have significant consumer impact, as well as an important environmental benefit," says Eric Wachsman, director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center (UMERC).

"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," Wachsman adds.

General Electric Global Research and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are partnering with the University of Maryland on the project, which has received economic stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. The new grant is part of a program designed to bring "game-changing" technologies to market.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick

It is technological breakthroughs such as this that are going to allow us to break our addiction to fossil fuels. Keep up the good work.

Lawrence Weisdorn
22nd July, 2010 @ 08:26 am PDT

"The 0.01-ton prototype..."

Couldn't you just say twenty pounds? Sigh...

22nd July, 2010 @ 08:58 am PDT

Kudos are in order.. we need this to be widespread soon soon.

22nd July, 2010 @ 11:31 am PDT

As usual, All I can dig up- is the same announcement in6 different forms. I'll believe when I see it.

Facebook User
26th July, 2010 @ 05:01 pm PDT
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