A new research has brought environmentally friendly 'magnetic' refrigerators and air conditioning systems a closer to reality.
Magnetic refrigeration technology could provide a 'green' alternative to traditional energy-guzzling gas-compression fridges and air conditioners.
AdvertisementThey would require 20-30 percent 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 percent 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 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 said that this could, in the future, help them to custom-design the best material for the job.
According to Professor Cohen, from Imperial's Department of Phsyics, "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," he said.
"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," he added.