BASF & Delta Electronics To Cooperate On Magnetic Technology For Cooling Systems

August 27, 2009 by Jeff Shepard

BASF and Delta Electronics, Inc. announced that they want to use environmentally friendly magnetocaloric technology to develop new cooling systems and explore the opportunities of magnetocaloric power generation. The cooperation partners are working on materials and prototypes for cooling systems and power generators intended to replace conventional compressor technology in refrigerators and air conditioning systems.

"Our experts in material and process development work closely with scientists in fundamental research at internationally renowned universities such as the TU Delft and our innovative industrial partner, Delta Electronics," said Professor Rainer Diercks, President, Chemicals Research & Engineering at BASF. "BASF has already started the scale-up for the production of special, economically feasible materials that already show a magnetocaloric effect at relatively low temperatures and thus offer a broad range of applications. This is a major contribution to the success of this project."

"We are delighted to team up with BASF," said Delta’s Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Office Yancey Hai. "Our joint development project with BASF is in line with our mission to provide innovative, clean and efficient energy solutions for a better tomorrow. We will generate new business opportunities with our competency as a system integrator of efficient energy technologies."

According to the companies, cooling systems based on the magnetocaloric effect have the potential of significantly reducing energy consumption. The magnetic technology does away with gaseous refrigerants and is therefore quieter and causes less vibration than conventional compressor type refrigerators. It is also compact enough to suit all conventional household refrigerators and commercial applications such as computer cooling systems or air conditioners.

As long ago as 1880, the German physicist Emil Warburg observed that ferromagnetic materials heat up when introduced into a magnetic field and cool down again when removed. Magnetic field based cooling systems have existed since the 1930s – but so far only in laboratories. Today, new materials in magnetic refrigeration technology and more effective permanent magnets allow for a much larger effect. Already at normal ambient temperatures, even weak magnetic fields can generate particularly large temperature differences that can be utilized for cooling by means of a heat exchange system. Delta wants to develop small coolers for household appliances.

"We’re all ready to go. What we need now are prototypes for cooling systems to demonstrate the energy-saving potential in everyday use," said Dr. Thomas Weber, Managing Director of BASF Future Business GmbH, which coordinates material optimization, product design and production processes. Initial estimates by material researchers suggest that energy consumption can be cut by up to 50 percent by using a unit with magnetic refrigerating technology instead of a conventional refrigerator.

Commercially viable applications for magnetocaloric cooling are only possible if there is an abundant supply of affordable raw materials. BASF is working, for example, on chemically stable manganese-iron compounds. These compounds are characterized by low-volume expansion and a particularly large magnetocaloric effect. At the same time, these materials are cheaper to produce than those based on the metal gadolinium and its salts that have been used to date. The production of larger amounts for industrial applications is currently being tested.

One of the main research goals in the area of magnetocalorics is to save energy in numerous potential applications ranging from cryoproduction in the process industry, through automotive air conditioners, miniaturized cooling systems for electronic components and refrigerators. "Cooling equipment accounts for about one-fifth of domestic energy consumption. The refrigerator is in effect the most important home appliance in terms of potential energy savings because every household has one – and because it is one of the most power hungry appliances," explained Olaf Rogge, Magnetocalorics Project Leader at BASF Future Business, to illustrate the scale of the challenge.