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Air conditioners around the world compress and vaporize environmentally damaging gases to cool and heat air. But a new heat pump technology could change all that. Credit: Kuni Takahashi/Getty
The use of environmentally damaging gases in air conditioners and refrigerators could become redundant if a new kind of heat pump lives up to its promise. A prototype, described in a study published last week in Science1, uses electric fields and a special ceramic instead of alternately vaporizing a refrigerant fluid and condensing it with a compressor to warm or cool air.
The technology combines a number of existing techniques and has “superlative performance”, says Neil Mathur, a materials scientist at the University of Cambridge, UK.
Emmanuel Defay, a materials scientist at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology in Belvaux, and his collaborators built their experimental device out of a ceramic with a strong electrocaloric effect. Materials that exhibit this effect heat up when exposed to electric fields.