Apr 3, 2018 | By David

A new breakthrough in refrigeration has been achieved by researchers at the U.S Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, and 3D printing was a major part of it. The researchers made use of the technology to design and build a new advanced model system, which successfully used very small quantities of magnetocaloric materials to achieve refrigeration-level cooling. This points the way forward to the development of more energy-efficient, solid-state cooling systems, to replace the antiquated gas compression refrigeration that is most commonly used today.

Known as CaloriSMART (Small Modular Advanced Research-scale Test-station), the system was designed specifically for the rapid evaluation of materials in regenerators. It was intended to cut manufacturing times down considerably. To test the system, researchers subjected a sample of gadolinium to sequential magnetic fields. This caused the sample to alternate between heating up and cooling down. Using precisely timed pumps to circulate water during those heating and cooling cycles, the system demonstrated sustained cooling power of about 10 watts, with a 15 degree Celsius (just under 30° F) gradient between the hot and cold ends using only about three cubic centimeters of gadolinium.

"Despite predictions we would fail because of anticipated inefficiencies and losses, we always believed it would work," said CaloriCool project director and Ames Laboratory scientist Vitalij Pecharsky, "but we were pleasantly surprised by just how well it worked. It's a remarkable system and it performs exceptionally well. Magnetic refrigeration near room temperature has been broadly researched for 20 years, but this is one of the best systems that has been developed."

The design and construction of the system took around 5 months in total. 3D printing enabled the team to custom-build the manifold. This is the part of the system that holds the sample, and circulates the fluid that actually harnesses the system's cooling power. Other parts of the system include customized neodymium-iron-boron magnets that deliver a concentrated 1.4 Tesla magnetic field to the sample, and a precision in-line pumping system that circulates the fluid.

''The main reason we conceived and built CaloriSMART is to accelerate design and development of caloric materials so they can be moved into the manufacturing space at least two to three times faster compared to the 20 or so years it typically takes today," added Pecharsky, who is also an Anston Marston Distinguished Professor in the Iowa State University Department of Materials Science and Engineering.


After their successful tests with magnetocaloric materials, the team are intending upgrade the system to work with other types of materials. Elastocaloric materials, which reversibly heat up and cool down when subjected to cyclic tension or compression, are planned, as are electrocaloric materials. Having all three of these types of materials compatible with one system would be a first, and would streamline this kind of research in a way that could only help future refrigeration projects. The future looks bright for this environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient refrigeration process, which the team believes is scalable for large-scale manufacturing, making a new form of sustainable cooling commercially available on the market soon.


 

 

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