Scientists in Spain and Germany are working on a new material that could set the refrigeration industry back 80 years – in a good way, that is. As reported by Science Daily, instead of fluorinated gasses the new material is a solid, like the familiar old blocks of ice from a bygone era only in a high tech form for the sustainable new millenium.
The push to find alternatives to fluorinated gasses (HFCs) is urgent, because they have been identified as a group of particularly powerful and long lasting greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming. Mechanical refrigeration will enter more households as the world’s population grows and more regions adopt modern technology, so the potential market for a non-polluting alternative to HFC’s is enormous.
HFC’s provide a classic illustration of the law of unintended consequences — as in, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. HFC’s were introduced about twenty years ago in order to wean the refrigeration industry away from other gasses (CFCs) that were putting holes in the Earth’s protective ozone layer. But what worked for the ozone is proving not so good in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
The Road to Sustainable, Solid Refrigerants
The new refrigerant material is based on the principles of hydrostatic pressure (hydrostatic refers to the properties of fluid at rest, and hydrostatic pressure refers to the force of gravity exerted by a fluid), in combination with a magnetocaloric effect in which certain materials change temperature when exposed to a magnetic field. Initially that effect was thought to produce only an increase in temperature, but more recently it has been found that a decrease in temperature is also possible. The researchers found that they could achieve a rather impressive magnetocaloric effect by applying a relatively small amount of hydrostatic pressure to a nickel-manganese-indium alloy.
Magnets and Sustainability
The possibility of a solid, non-toxic alternative refrigerant is yet another example of the growing role that magnetic fields are playing in the sustainable future. Just a couple of other examples are the development of a magnet-based solder that replaces toxic lead solder, and new research into tiny nanomagnets that could make computers more energy efficient.
Image: Refrigerator by magnetbox on flickr.com.
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