Emerging technologies in refrigeration and trends in this field respond to two specific phenomena today. On the one hand, the unstoppable development of information and communication technologies. And, parallel to this, the need to effectively reduce the threat of climate change through actions that introduce changes in the systems that concern us. The latter is essential for production processes, food preservation and air conditioning.

In this article, we talk about how the industrial and commercial refrigeration sector is evolving, and what we can expect in the medium and long term.

Magnetic refrigeration among emerging technologies in refrigeration

When magnetic refrigeration achieves its full development and practical employability, it will be a revolutionary and totally ecological system. Until now, it is one of the emerging technologies in refrigeration that is based on a magnetic solid that acts as a refrigerant through a magnetocaloric effect (MCE). Composed of a ferromagnetic material, the MCE reaches high temperatures when the magnetic pairs of the atom manage to align by applying a magnetic field. In this sense, two types of magnetic phase changes can occur at the Curie point, or temperature above which a ferromagnetic body loses its magnetism and behaves as a purely paramagnetic material:

  • A first-order magnetic transition (FOMT).
  • Or, a second-order magnetic transition (SOMT).

The reference cycle for magnetic refrigeration is the AMR or active magnetic regeneration cycle for its acronym in English. In essence, it is a process in which the magnetic material matrix acts as a cooling medium and heat regenerator at the same time; meanwhile, the fluid that circulates in the porous matrix functions as a heat transfer medium. Then, regeneration can take place thanks to the blowing of a reciprocal heat transfer fluid through the regenerator made with magnetocaloric material. It is alternately magnetized and demagnetized.

Advantages of magnetic cooling

Indeed, several magnetic refrigeration prototypes with various designs and software models have already been built in different parts of the world. Until now, the advances achieved allow us to state that this option, among the emerging technologies in refrigeration, offers interesting comparative advantages with respect to current systems:

  • It is an environmentally friendly technology. And this is so since, being a magnetic system, it does not require the refrigerants used by vapour compression systems. Instead of these, it uses magnetic material and a heat transfer fluid such as water or water with ethanol, which does not affect the ozone layer.
  • It provides high thermodynamic efficiency since the magnetic system approximates a much better inverted Carnot cycle compared to conventional systems.
  • It is a silent and vibration-free technology. Despite the advances made to reduce the noise and vibrations of conventional systems, these disadvantages still persist. On the contrary, in magnetic refrigeration, these effects disappear when operating through a magnet.
  • Save energy and maintenance costs. In fact, magnetic cooling installations reduce energy consumption by between 30% and 40% compared to conventional ones. In addition, its maintenance requirements are minimal.

However, for magnetic refrigerators to be commercially viable, developers still need to find a way to achieve ideal temperatures; as well as obtain permanent magnets, capable of generating strong magnetic fields, of the order of 10-tesla. Similarly, it is necessary to solve problems such as thermal hysteresis, to increase the usefulness of the materials used in the assembly of these systems.

HyCool, a European project, stands out among the emerging technologies in refrigeration

Currently, the HYCOOL project is under development, a term that abbreviates the name “Industrial Cooling through a hybrid system based on solar heat”. We are talking about an R&D initiative promoted by Veolia Serveis Catalunya and 16 other partners from six European countries. On the other hand, it is co-financed by the European Union, within the framework of its Horizon 2020 program. In short, the purpose of this process is to validate a system for generating industrial cold and steam from high-temperature solar panels. Such characteristics would make it one of the most convenient emerging refrigeration technologies in terms of sustainability.

Specifically, HYCOOL seeks to increase the current use of solar heat in industrial processes. With this objective, the project proposes the coupling of a new Fresnel CSP solar thermal collector (FCSP) with hybrid heat pumps (HHP) specially assembled for the project. Basically, these consist of a “two-in-one” combination of concentrating-based heat pumps and the compressor. With this, it is expected to achieve a wider output temperature range (Solar Heating and Cooling, SHC). Likewise, it is planned to supply a wide range of design and operating configurations to better adapt to each case.

The project, which had a budget of 7.7 million euros, began in May 2018 and will end in October 2022. After this period, the system will be tested in two selected industrial plants from leading sectors in Catalonia.

The impact of digital transformation on emerging technologies in refrigeration

Without a doubt, the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and other automation technologies will play an increasingly decisive role in refrigeration. In this sense, the system’s electronics are already helping to manage both the refrigeration cycles and the system’s operations. Meanwhile, compressor protection and diagnostic capabilities are streamlining maintenance and service processes.

As a result, operators and managers will have broader visibility into key infrastructure systems that go beyond refrigeration. This will allow factors such as lighting, air quality and energy management to be incorporated into this perspective. Through the use of easy-to-operate platforms that will form part of these critical systems, it will be possible to manage and monitor the facilities and their energy performance more efficiently.

Adaptation to change

Obviously, the evolution of current systems and the development of emerging technologies in refrigeration, as well as the change to refrigerants with low environmental impact, are posing a series of demanding challenges to companies in the sector.

In the first place, it is essential to acquire new knowledge and practices on the ideal procedures that allow the operation and maintenance of new and natural refrigeration installations. Particularly those that use water, water + ethanol, carbon dioxide and ammonia as refrigerants. Furthermore, it is imperative for contractors to broaden their perception of the current scenario in order to align client goals with available system options. This is likely to require higher initial investments. However, it is feasible to amortize such costs in the long term, when emerging technologies are consolidated.

At Intersam we are up to date with emerging technologies in refrigeration

As manufacturers of industrial and commercial refrigeration and air conditioning systems, at Intersam we are attentive to the innovations that influence our business area. Apart from designing and developing heat exchangers, condensers, adiabatic air coolers and other products tailored to the needs of our customers, we go further. We investigate emerging technologies in refrigeration, to assess what aspects of these we can incorporate into our systems in the medium and long term. Proof of this is that the equipment we manufacture has its own advanced software to facilitate its operation. Do you need large-scale, green and energy-efficient refrigeration and air conditioning equipment? At Intersam we manufacture them and take them to wherever your company is located, inside and outside of Spain. Contact us now!