banner
food in a refrigerator

Scientists from the United Kingdom and Spain have developed a way to replace the organic gases—hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and hydrocarbons (HCs)—used in most conventional refrigerators. These gases are toxic and flammable, and when they leak into the air, they also contribute to global warming.

“Refrigerators and air conditioners based on HFCs and HCs are also relatively inefficient,” said lead researcher Xavier Moya, Royal Society research fellow in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy. “That’s important because refrigeration and air conditioning currently devour a fifth of the energy produced worldwide, and demand for cooling is only going up.”

To solve these problems, materials scientists around the world have sought alternative solid refrigerants. When put under pressure, plastic crystals of neopentylglycol (NPG) yield huge cooling effects—enough that they are competitive with conventional coolants. In addition, the material is inexpensive, widely available, and functions at close to room temperature. Details are published in the journal Nature Communications.

In the study, Moya and collaborators from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and the Universitat de Barcelona describe the enormous thermal changes under pressure achieved with plastic crystals. Conventional cooling technologies rely on the thermal changes that occur when a compressed fluid expands. Most cooling devices work by compressing and expanding fluids such as HFCs and HCs. As the fluid expands, it decreases in temperature, cooling its surroundings.

With solids, cooling is achieved by changing the material’s microscopic structure. This change can be achieved by applying a magnetic field, an electric field, or through mechanic force. NPG’s molecules, composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, are nearly spherical and interact with each other only weakly. These loose bonds in its microscopic structure permit the molecules to rotate relatively freely.

The word “plastic” in “plastic crystals” refers not to its chemical composition but rather to its malleability. Plastic crystals lie at the boundary between solids and liquids.

In the future, solid-state refrigeration could lead to more compact and flexible devices compared to traditional ones. Moya is now working with Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialization arm of the University of Cambridge, to bring this technology to market.

More from IFTNEXT right arrow

New coating gives foodborne pathogens the slip

A nonstick wrap that repels bacteria has potentially valuable food packaging applications, according to the researchers at McMaster University in Canada who developed it.

Developing alternatives to the ‘other white meat’

With concerns over contaminated seafood and the environmental cost of beef production, it is no wonder that startups are popping up with a slew of alternatives. However, until recently, innovation in the pork alternatives segment has lagged.

An avocado a day may keep LDL away

Keeping ‘bad cholesterol’ at bay may be as simple as consuming one avocado a day, according to the results of research conducted by scientists at Pennsylvania State University.

New fishing technologies increase depletion of fish stocks

A research initiative at the University of British Columbia called the Sea Around Us conducts research on the fisheries of the world and their effects on aquatic ecosystems.

More from IFT right arrow

The power of private brands; Healthy foods have lower environmental impact

News about food science research, food companies, food regulations, and consumer/marketplace trends

Maintaining Healthy Microbiomes

Research on the gut microbiome is linking parts of the diet with healthy microbiomes and uncovering benefits of a healthy gut microbiome, including supporting mental health, cardiovascular health, weight management, and more.

Sensory evaluation of specialty oranges; Europe leads in organic launches

News about food science research, food companies, food regulations, and consumer/marketplace trends

The Dairy Chronicles

Dairy experts at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for Dairy Research explain why cow’s milk is a near-perfect beverage and perhaps the most versatile ingredient.

Unlocking the Secrets of the Gut Microbiome

The human gut microbiome is getting a lot of attention these days as researchers begin to link the vast microbial ecosystem of the gut with health and disease.

Latest News right arrow

Cooking dinners at home more frequently may improve overall diet quality

A study published in Public Health Nutrition suggests that people who often cook meals at home may have a better overall diet.

Almost 50% of U.S. adults will be obese by 2030

About half of the U.S. adult population will have obesity and about a quarter will have severe obesity by 2030, according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Mediterranean diet may improve kidney health in transplant recipients

A study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology suggests that consuming a Mediterranean diet may aid kidney health in kidney transplant recipients.

Children may make healthier food choices after watching a healthy food cooking show

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows that children may make healthier eating decisions after watching a television cooking program featuring healthy food.

Whole milk may decrease risk of obesity in children

A meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that children who drink whole milk may be less likely to be overweight or obese compared with children who consume reduced-fat milk.