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'Smart' metal could replace refrigerants

College Park, Md. -- A new "smart" metal could replace the liquid refrigerant in air conditioners, saving consumers money and reducing greenhouse gases, scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Maryland are developing a new "thermally elastic" metal alloy to replace fluids used in conventional refrigeration and air conditioning compressors, a university release said Friday.

The alloy alternately absorbs or creates heat similar to a compressor-based system, but uses far less energy and avoids the need for fluids with high global warming potential, the researchers say.

"Air conditioning represents the largest share of home electric bills in the summer, so this new ntechnology could have significant consumer impact, as well as an important environmental benefit," Eric Wachsman, director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center, said.

"The approach is expected to increase cooling efficiency 175 percent, reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 250 million metric tons per year, and replace liquid refrigerants that can cause environmental degradation in their own right," Wachsman adds.

The researchers are in the process of building a first prototype unit, the university release said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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