Washington, August 8 : Penn State researchers believe that refrigerators and other cooling devices sans compressors and coils of piping may soon be a reality.
The researchers say that insights gained from the ongoing studies on electrically induced heat effects of some ferroelectric polymers may make it possible.
"This is the first step in the development of an electric field refrigeration unit. For the future, we can envision a flat panel refrigerator. No more coils, no more compressors, just solid polymer with appropriate heat exchangers," says Qiming Zhang, distinguished professor of electrical engineering.
He has revealed that ferroelectric polymers exhibit temperature changes at room temperature under an electrical field.
According to him, some polarpolymers have been found to give off heat and become colder when electricity is applied.
When the electricity is turned off, Zhang adds, the material reverts to its disordered state and absorbs heat.
Writing about their findings in the journal Science, the researchers reported a change of about 22.6 degrees Fahrenheit in temperature for the material.
Zhang and his colleagues believe that repeated randomising and ordering of the material, combined with an appropriate heat exchanger, may provide a wide range of heating and cooling temperatures.
"These polymers are flexible and can be used for heating and cooling, so there may be many different possible applications," said Zhang, also a faculty member of Penn State's Materials Research Institute.
Besides air conditioning and refrigeration units, applications could include heating or cooling of a variety of clothing including cooling of protective gear for fire fighters, heating of mittens and socks or shoes for athletes, sportsmen and law enforcement officer and even cooling of mascot and cartoon character costumes.
Another application would be in electronics, where small amounts of the polymers could effectively cool over heating circuit boards and allow closer packing, and therefore smaller devices.