New ‘smart’ metal could cut energy bills, reduce emissions

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From Green Right Now Reports


Researchers at the University of Maryland are developing a “thermally elastic” metal alloy that could revolutionize the manufacture of refrigeration and air conditioning systems. In addition to cutting user costs, the technology is expected to produce significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“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.

“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.”

The UM team has developed a solid coolant to replace fluids used in conventional refrigeration and air conditioning compressors. In the next phase, the group will test the commercial viability of their smart metal for space cooling applications.

The prototype takes the place of conventional vapor compression cooling technology. Instead of fluids, it uses a solid-state material, the thermoelastic shape memory alloy. The two-state alloy absorbs or creates heat in much the same way as a compressor-based system, but uses far less energy. It also has a smaller operational footprint than conventional technology and eschews fluids with high global warming potential.

The Department of Energy has given the team $500,000 as part of its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program, designed to advance out-of-the-box, transformational research from the laboratory to marketplace. Grants are funded with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“These grants are highly competitive and require a demonstration that the technology has genuine commercial potential,” Wachsman says. “This represents a significant investment in the state of Maryland and the development of its ‘green’ economy.”

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