New Refrigeration System Based on an Electrochemical Compressor Announced

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A high-tech startup company, Xergy Inc., has made public a new refrigeration system based on an electrochemical compressor to substitute the mainstream mechanical vapor compression systems that are found in most heat pumps. The company said that it recognizes the University of Delaware’s Ajay Prasad and his research team because of their major role in the discovery.

Prasad, who leads the University of Delaware’s Center for Fuel Cell Research, said, “When Xergy approached us to collaborate on this idea, we recognized that electrochemical compressors (ECCs) are very similar to fuel cells. For example, ECCs employ many of the same components, including an ion-exchange membrane, gas diffusion layers, bipolar plates, and catalysts.”

Yet, there are some major differences that create challenges in placing this technology to HVAC applications.

A graduate student who is working with Prasad to address such challenges, Ashish Chouhan, elaborated that conventional ion-exchange membranes must be highly hydrated so that it can allow proton conduction. However, the design of Xergy, which utilizes metal hydride heat exchangers, must be moisture free because water can severely degrade the metal hydride beds.

Chouhan added, “We are testing various membrane and catalyst layer formulations that will pump hydrogen effectively in the complete absence of water. We have tested several ion-exchange membranes and are now focused on membranes made from a high-performance polymer called polybenzimidazole for this task.”

Basic applications for the technology include hybrid water heaters and air conditioners. ECCs have the advantage of being thoroughly efficient and quiet because they have no moving parts and they permit the use of environmentally friendly refrigerants.

The President of Xergy, Bamdad Bahar said in the announcement of the breakthrough, “It is no longer a matter of if, but when, this technology will enter the market. We have proven that refrigeration systems based on electrochemical compression are a viable alternative. Now it is just a matter of refinement to get the package smaller and cheaper so that it can see widespread adoption in a wide variety of appliances for global markets.”

Xergy plans to expand ECC applications to include commercial and residential refrigeration systems, air conditioners, and other cooling and heating applications once the technology has been polished.

“This technology has the potential to transform refrigeration systems worldwide and bring about significant environmental benefits. Improvements in HVAC system efficiencies will greatly reduce the electricity demand from power plants leading to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, widespread adoption of ECCs will bypass the 150 million electric motors that are required to drive mechanical compressors, which will reduce our dependence on critical raw materials that go into electric motors,” Prasad concluded.

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