Magnetic refrigeration technology could provide a 'green' alternative to traditional energy-guzzling gas-compression fridges and air conditioners.
They would require 20-30% less energy to run than the best systems currently available, and would not rely on ozone-depleting chemicals or greenhouse gases. Refrigeration and air conditioning units make a major contribution to the planet's energy consumption - in the USA in the summer months they account for approximately 50% of the country's energy use.
A magnetic refrigeration system works by applying a magnetic field to a magnetic material - some of the most promising being metallic alloys - causing it to heat up. This excess heat is removed from the system by water, cooling the material back down to its original temperature. When the magnetic field is removed the material cools down even further, and it is this cooling property that researchers hope to harness for a wide variety of cooling applications.
The technology, based on research funded in the UK by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), has proved possible in the lab but researchers are still looking for improved materials that provide highly efficient cooling at normal room temperatures, so that the technology can be rolled out from the lab to people's homes and businesses.
They need a material that exhibits dramatic heating and cooling when a magnetic field is applied and removed, which can operate in normal everyday conditions, and which does not lose efficiency when the cooling cycle is repeated time after time.
The new study published today shows that the pattern of crystals inside different alloys - otherwise known as their microstructure - has a direct effect on how well they could perform at the heart of a magnetic fridge. The Imperial College London team behind the new findings say this could, in the future, help them to custom-design the best material for the job.
Professor Lesley Cohen, one of the authors of the paper, explains that by using unique probes designed at Imperial, her team, led by Dr James Moore, was able to analyse what happens to different materials on a microscopic level when they are magnetised and de-magnetised. This enabled the team to pinpoint what makes some materials better candidates for a magnetic fridge system than others.
Professor Cohen, from Imperial's Department of Phsyics, said: "We found that the structure of crystals in different metals directly affects how dramatically they heat up and cool down when a magnetic field is applied and removed. This is an exciting discovery because it means we may one day be able to tailor-make a material from the 'bottom up', starting with the microstructure, so it ticks all the boxes required to run a magnetic fridge. This is vitally important because finding a low-energy alternative to the fridges and air conditioning systems in our homes and work places is vital for cutting our carbon emissions and tackling climate change."
This new research follows on from another study published by the same Imperial group in Physical Review B last month, in which they used similar probing techniques to precisely measure the temperature changes that occur when different materials are removed from a magnetic field, and to analyse the different ways they occur.
The lead scientist Kelly Morrison found that at the molecular level two different temperature change processes, known as first- and second-order changes, happen simultaneously in each material. The team think that the extent to which each of these two processes feature in a material also affects its cooling capabilities.
Professor Cohen says this means that whilst the majority of research to perfect magnetic refrigeration worldwide has tended to involve analysing and testing large samples of materials, the key to finding a suitable material for everyday applications may lie in the smaller detail:
"Our research illustrates the importance of understanding the microstructure of these materials and how they respond to magnetic fields on a microscopic level," she concluded.
Danielle Reeves | EurekAlert!
Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air
26.04.2017 | University of Central Florida
Researchers invent process to make sustainable rubber, plastics
25.04.2017 | University of Delaware
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy