Cooling with metal muscles: Engineers develop the refrigerator of the future

Cooling is a hugely important process in today’s world. But how can cooling be carried out in future in a way that does not harm the climate and that helps to conserve natural resources? The approach taken by Professors Stefan Seelecke and Andreas Schütze from Saarland University focuses on systems that use shape memory materials, also known as ‘metal muscles’ or 'artificial muscles’. Working together with researchers in Bochum, they are developing a new method of cooling in which heat and cold are transferred using 'muscles’ made from a nickel-titanium alloy. Extensive series of tests have yielded results that are now being used to develop a prototype cooling circuit that will be used to further increase the efficiency of the process. The German Research Foundation (DFG), which has been funding the project for the last three years, has agreed to invest a further 500,000 euros. In total, the project has brought around 950,000 euros in funding to the region.

Cooling is carried out in all parts of the world. Refrigerators operate around-the-clock, air conditioning units cool offices, cooling systems help to keep computers and motors running smoothly. And the demand for cooling is being driven both by climate change and global population growth. But more cooling systems come at a price – and not just a financial one. Increased cooling means increased consumption of electrical power and therefore higher emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, driving global warming even faster. A more environmentally friendly cooling method has been developed by the research teams led by engineers Stefan Seelecke and Andreas Schütze in conjunction with the materials scientists Gunther Eggeler and Jan Frenzel at Ruhr University Bochum. The cooling process that they are developing does not require climatically harmful refrigerants and should consume less energy than the conventional cooling technologies used thus far.

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