Researchers from UCLA have developed an air conditioner so small it fits in your pocket, on top of that it is energy-efficient and eco-friendly. The results were published in the journal Science.
When you think “Air Conditioner” you imagine big and loud machines that pollute the environment by emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. These machines usually involve pumping refrigerant fluids, which leads to even more environmental destruction if the AC unit got broken or was improperly disposed of. Newer devices called thermoelectric coolers require costly ceramic materials and don’t cool things as efficiently as the traditional gas-compression devices.
The new device, however, uses what researchers call the electrocaloric effects where an electric field is utilized to route unwanted heat through specially designed materials.
Researchers used a polymer with special properties and positioned it in an open space between the heat source and the heat sink (the part that takes all unwanted heat). When the polymer touches the sink, an electric field is applied causing the polymer’s molecules to line up in an orderly fashion, forcing the heat out of the polymer layer and into the heat sink. Then the researchers move the polymer to the heat source side and remove the electric field which allows the ordered molecules to relax and the temperature to drop. The polymer can now absorb more heat from the source, cooling it down, and then move the polymer back to the sink and repeat the process all over again.
Even though the technology is energy-efficient, there’s another reason it could be even cheaper and better for the environment. Traditional air conditioners operate by cooling large spaces which is wasteful. By placing small cooling devices on a person’s seat to cool individuals instead of spaces — companies could cut down cost of their A/C bills.
Researchers took the experiment even further, they placed a cooling device made of flexible materials and installed it on a Samsung Galaxy S4. Remarkably, the battery cooled down by 8 degrees Celsius.
This new technology has a wide range of applications, such as cooling devices in wearable electronics or used for therapeutic cooling devices for physical inflammation and injury.