UK: A company pioneering barocaloric cooling and refrigeration technology has secured a £1.3m investment to accelerate commercialisation of its novel technology.

Barocal Ltd, a spin-out from the University of Cambridge, employs solid-state technology through the use of solid organic “plastic crystal” materials to provide cooling. The company was a finalist in 2020’s Global Cooling Prize, the international innovation competition promoted by Sir Richard Branson.

As the technology also works in heating applications, the University of Cambridge spin-out now plans to explore the potential of its breakthrough for domestic and commercial heating systems—to provide a cost-effective, efficient alternative to expensive air source heat pumps.

Dr Xavier Moya, co-founder of Barocal presents the technology to the Global Cooling Prize judges

Instead of using refrigerant gases with high global warming potential, Barocal’s technology uses new solid-state, temperature-changing materials. Cheap and non-toxic, these are organic materials that release and absorb heat at different pressures as they change volume. Known as barocaloric materials, they are said to be more efficient than fluid refrigerants and more environmentally friendly and easier to recycle at the end of a product’s lifetime.

This solid-state technology takes advantage of the properties of solid organic “plastic crystal” materials to provide the cooling. By applying pressure to these organic solid crystals, it is possible to change their molecular orientation which results in a solid state phase transition, thus causing a change in their entropy, which leads to a temperature change of the system. The process of continuously “applying and releasing pressure” on the Barocaloric material results in solid-to-solid phase changes in the crystals which results in large thermal changes due to molecular reconfiguration. This produces a cooling effect which can be delivered either to the room air or to produce chilled water for cooling. 

These plastic crystals are flexible materials that are said to be widely available, low-cost and non-toxic.

The £1.3 million investment in Barocal was led by IP Group plc, which focuses on funding innovations to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Cambridge Enterprise participated in the funding as part of a new sustainability initiative.

The work on the technology began as a joint project among Cambridge’s Department of Materials and Metallurgy, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, and the University of Barcelona. Barocal has a licence for the technology from Cambridge Enterprise.

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