New 'Smart' Metal Could Mean Cool Cash for Consumers, Less CO2

If a new "smart" metal could help cool at 175% more efficiently than current technology, imagine what that would do for your electric bills.


Researchers at the University of Maryland are developing a new "thermally elastic" metal alloy for use in advanced refrigeration and air conditioning systems. The technology promises greater efficiency and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Maryland team will soon begin testing of a prototype system, with economic stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

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 coolant to take the place of fluids used in conventional refrigeration and air conditioning compressors.

In the next phase of research, the team will now test the commercial viability of their smart metal for space cooling applications. The 0.01-ton prototype is intended to replace conventional vapor compression cooling technology. Instead of fluids, it uses a solid-state material  their thermoelastic shape memory alloy.

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

General Electric Global Research and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are partnering with the University of Maryland on the project.

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