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Innovative Physics for Magnetic Cooling IndustryResearch Program

Introduction

 

           Energy is important for humans in everyday life, as well as critical to economic growth and developments in agricultural and industrial sectors. The energy sources for Thailand are mostly from fossil resources (e.g. natural gas, coals, and oil), which are non-renewable energy sources. With continuously rising demands for energy, while the fossil reserves are reduced everyday, it is critical to develop a technology that improves the energy efficiency and reduces the energy usage level.

 

           The climate in Thailand is typically hot across the country throughout most of the year. And, with the continuous growth of Thailand economy, the nation demand for energy is rising high, especially the energy usage for refrigeration. Refrigeration is a basic need for Thai people in everyday life, household, work, retails and transportation sectors. Common refrigeration systems include refrigerators, air conditioners in household, automobile, retails, and service sectors. Moreover,refrigeration is important in the production and manufacturing sectors, e.g. frozen food and packaging industries, which require low temperature for prolonging food freshness. It has been reported that the energy usage for refrigeration systems is accounted for more than 50% of the country’s total energy consumption. As a result, the refrigeration utilization imparts high impact on the nation’s energy usage.

 

 

           Therefore, the refrigeration industry sector has become one of the critical industries in Thailand in which the domestic manufacturers are strongly potent to compete in global markets. The domestic manufacturers possess know-how and expertise in the refrigeration system product from design, production, processing, and manufacturing. Therefore, the refrigeration industry has the ability to develop their own technologies and products, such as compressors and air conditioning systems. For the sustainable economic growth, to ensure that the domestic refrigeration industry can compete globally, new innovations for refrigeration system should be studied and developed to enhance both the energy efficiency and environmental-friendly performance of the refrigeration products.


Examples of a compressor designed and produced by a Thai company,Kulthorn Kirby Public Company Limited.
(Source: http://www.vatgia.com/raovat/1640/8354111/may-nen-kulthorn-compressor.html)

            Currently, one of the most widely-used refrigeration systems is a vapor compression refrigeration. The vapor compression system utilizes phase-changing refrigerant as a coolant medium. Pressure change and heat exchange transform the refrigerant phase between hot liquid (high pressure) and cold vapor (low pressure) phases, resulting in the refrigerant’s temperature change. However, the vapor compression requires high electrical energy consumption due to the use of a compressor for pressurizing the refrigerant. The compressor consumes high energy with relatively low efficiency, because its pressurizing process is an irreversible process. As a result, the overall cooling/heating cycles of the vapor compression system exhibit efficiency lower than 10% of Carnot cycle, resulting in extensive energy waste. Moreover, the vapor compression system has negative impact on environment, because the required refrigerants normally consist of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which damage the ozone layer in the atmosphere. Key environmental organizations, such as US environmental protection agency (EPA), have announced the protocols to reduce the use of HCFCs and to become HCFC-free in 2020. Therefore, it is necessary that a new and innovative refrigeration system, which exhibits high energy-consumption efficiency and environmental-friendly, is developed to replace the traditional vapor-compression system in the near future [1].

 



A compressor is an integral component for the vapor compression refrigeration system.
(Source: https://pixabay.com/en/air-conditioner-global-warming-1185041/X)


           Nowadays, a solid-state cooling system has gained a lot attention as a new green technology that replaces HCFCs with a solid refrigerant. One of the most promising solid-state cooling systems is the magnetic refrigeration system. The magnetic refrigeration uses a magnetocaloric material as a solid-state refrigerant without using any environmentally-harmful solution. The cooling/heating performance of the magnetocaloric effect (MCE) can potentially be as high as 60% of Carnot cycle. As a result, the magnetic refrigeration can potentially become an alternative refrigeration system for household and industrial sectors in the future.

 

           The magnetic refrigeration is based on the principles of thermodynamics. The magnetocaloric material are heated up and cooled down, under magnetization and demagnetization, respectively. Therefore, the magnetic-field induced temperature change of the magnetocaloric material is exploited for refrigeration cycle by using the magnetocaloric material as a refrigerant.


Comparison of (left) refrigeration cycles of the vapor compression system with (right) refrigeration cycles of the magnetic refrigeration.

            The refrigeration cycles of the vapor compression system and the magnetic refrigeration system is schematically illustrated above. For the magnetic refrigeration, the compressors, pressure-relief valve, and environmentally-hazard refrigerants (e.g. HFC, HCFC) are replaced with the solid-state magnetocaloric refrigerant and the magnetic field. The magnetocaloric material’s temperature increases under a presence of magnetic field (H field on) and decreases when the field is off. Unlike the refrigerant that is used in the vapor compression system, the temperature of the magnetocaloric material can be changed by the magnetic field application under normal atmosphere without the need for a compressor to pump up high pressure. An application of the magnetic field can be controlled by using a rotary permanent magnet with typically rotation speed lower than 10 rpm, which is much lower than the pumping frequency of a compressor. As a result, the magnetic field application potentially consumes much lower electrical energy than the pressurization process by a compressor. Moreover, the temperature change of the magnetocaloric material under a magnetic field change is a reversible process. Therefore, the efficiency of the magnetocaloric heating/cooling cycles can be close to that of Carnot cycle. As a result, the magnetic refrigeration shows high potentials to provide high energy-efficient and environmental-friendly refrigeration system.

           Yet, even though the discovery of the magnetocaloric effect has been known for longer than 40 years, to date, there is no fully commercial magnetic refrigeration, except magnetic refrigeration prototypes by internationally-renowned companies such as GE or Haier. This is due to a few economical and technical limitations. The costs of high-performance permanent magnets and magnetocaloric materials are relatively high. The heat exchange process between the solid-state refrigerant and heat-convective liquid flow during the magnetic refrigeration cycles are to be improved. And, the maximum cooling power and temperature span of the magnetocaloric materials under relatively low magnetic field must be improved further. These limitations can be overcome with the research and development of the permanent magnet and magnetocaloric materials. Currently, many research teams around the world have put a lot effort to develop the magnetic refrigeration to fully commercialization [2-4]. Therefore, it is foreseeable that the magnetic refrigeration will have an important role in the refrigeration industry in the near future.

Examples of the magnetic refrigeration prototypes developed by the research teams from Canada [2], France [3], and USA. [4]

           With the reasons stated above, it is critical that the domestic refrigeration industry has to be ready for the inevitable technological evolution in the refrigeration technology. To be able to remain competitive, both human resources and research & development centers with core expertise in the magnetic refrigeration and permanent magnet technologies should be available to support the industry. Once the magnetic refrigeration technology has reached maturity and become fully commercialization, the refrigeration industrial sector will be ready for new component design and manufacturing to ensure that Thailand remains as one of the major manufacturing hubs for the refrigeration-related products.

 

            Therefore, Thailand Center of Excellence in Physics (ThEP Center) has realized the importance of the magnetic refrigeration technology that can be important for the sustainable development of energy and industry sectors in the country. ThEP Center has organized series of magnetic seminars in which several professors and researchers, with magnetic and magnetism expertise from leading universities, exchanged knowledge and discussed the magnetocaloric and magnetic topics. The participants were from the Department of Physics and the Department of Materials Engineering from Kasetsart University, Mahidol University, Suranaree University of Technology, Walailak University, Chulalongkorn University, and Chiang Mai University. The executive members from KulthornKurby Public Company Limited and KV Electronics, Co. Ltd. also participated the seminars to provide insights from the business sector. The goals of the seminars are to create strong research network in magnetic and magnetism to conduct research and development on the magnetic materials and processing for permanent magnets and magnetic refrigeration by applying the physics principles, i.e. advanced materials and nanotechnology. Through strong research collaboration, the outputs will be the critical knowledge in physics and innovation to improve the performance of permanent magnet and magnetocaloric materials and to reduce the processing costs of the materials and the refrigeration prototypes. So, the advance in the magnetic refrigeration in Thailand can enable the upstream-to-downstream production of the magnetic refrigeration prototype that apply materials and processing knowledge from the research collaboration.

 

           As a result, Thailand Center of Excellence in Physics has initiated the research program, entitled “Innovative Physics for Magnetic Cooling Industry Research Program”, with the following objectives:

 

                                   1. To become forefront academic excellence in magnetic materials and magnetism for permanent magnet and magnetic refrigeration.
                                   2. To develop product prototypes and innovation with commercial and industrial applications.
                                   3. To produce human resources for research and development that will be main driving force for the advancement in the permanent magnet
                                        and magnetic refrigeration in Thailand.
                                   4. To create the research collaborative network among Thailand’s leading universities and research institutes that will lead to interdisciplinary
                                        research for science, engineering, and nanotechnology for upstream-to-downstream magnetic products
           To achieve the objectives above, Innovative Physics for Magnetic Cooling Industry Research Program is consisted of 4 research projects, including:
(Please click the link below for the details of each project)

 

 

           The outputs and outcomes from these four projects will create basic and applied knowledge in physics and advanced materials for permanent magnet and magnetocaloric materials that can be further exploited to develop the magnetic refrigeration prototype from upstream-to-downstream processes.

 

References

[1] http://thep-center.org/src2/views/industrial.php?article_id=19.
[2] D.S. Arnold , A. Tura, A. Ruebsaat-Trott, A. Rowe, “Design Improvements of a Permanent Magnet Active Magnetic Refrigerator,” International Journal of Refrigeration, 37 (2014) 99 – 105.
[3] http://www.cooltech-applications.com/images/pages/Photo 013.jpg
[4] S. Jacobs , J. Auringer , A. Boeder , J. Chell , L. Komorowski , J. Leonard , S. Russek , C. Zimm, “The Performance of a Large-scale Rotary Magnetic Refrigerator”, International Journal of Refrigeration, 37 (2014) 84 – 91

 

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