Scientists have found a way to replace the chemical coolants in fridges and air conditioners with plastic crystals. Cooling appliances like fridges and air conditioners typically consume a lot of energy. About one-fifth of the total electricity produced globally is sucked up by fridges and air conditioners and the demand for cooling keeps going up every year.
Most fridges and air conditioners are based on HFC and HC (Hydrofluorocarbons and Hydrocarbons) which are relatively energy inefficient. They produce a cooling effect through the successive compression and expansion of the fluid thereby eating up a lot of energy. This is important because as most countries are making the push towards renewable energy, the emphasis is on energy efficient appliances that can reduce the need for dirty fuels.
Researchers from Cambridge University and the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya have found that plastic neopentylglycol (NPG) crystals can pose a better alternative to HFC and HC. The crystals cool with changes in its microscopic structure caused by a magnetic field, electric field or mechanical force. The crystals are not really plastic; that term refers to their malleability. Their chemical makeup makes it easier to compress. When put under pressure, they yield huge cooling effects comparable to those exploited commercially in hydrofluorocarbons. In addition, the material is inexpensive, widely available and functions at close to room temperature.
Other benefits of Plastic crystals
Apart from the huge amount of electricity required to compress and expand HFC and HC fluids in cooling appliances, they are toxic and flammable materials. This can pose a danger when leakages occur. They are also powerful greenhouse gases that deplete the ozone layer. With plastic crystals, such toxic waste can easily be curtailed and cooling appliances will become much more energy efficient. In other words, plastic crystals are an ecofriendly alternative that can help to significantly curtail enviromental degradation both directly by limiting the use of greenhouse gases in cooling appliances and indirectly by reducing global energy demands.