College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Ames Laboratory will lead new consortium to research caloric materials, advance refrigeration technology

This story was originally published by Laura Millsaps with The Ames Laboratory

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory will be the home of a new research consortium for the discovery and development of more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient refrigeration technologies, sponsored by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

The consortium, named CaloriCoolTM, will pursue the development of alternative forms of refrigeration technologies, called caloric cooling, in partnership with the private sector and universities. CaloriCool is one of four consortia that make up DOE’s Energy Materials Network (EMN) announced today at the White House.  The EMN will facilitate industry access to the unique scientific and technical resources available at the national laboratories, enabling manufacturers to bring advanced materials to market more quickly.

Traditional refrigeration technology has remained essentially unchanged for over 100 years, using a vapor compression process that requires lots of electricity and generates heat.

As an alternative, materials scientists have created compounds in the last 20 years that can generate cooling when cyclically acted upon by magnetic, electric, or mechanical forces, called magnetocaloric, electrocaloric, and elastocaloric materials.

The mission of CaloriCoolTM is to discover caloric materials that would be more effective and cheaper than those known today, rapidly test their cooling powers, perform initial economic analyses, and develop these materials for adoption into commercial use.

CaloriCoolTM will also build a refrigeration device with the ability to test performance of caloric materials in a real-world operational environment.

“Following our discovery of the giant magnetocaloric effect, it took everyone almost 20 years to realize that what really holds the technology back from commercialization is the lack of a viable material with a strong enough caloric cooling effect,” said Ames Laboratory scientist Vitalij Pecharsky. “Once we develop the materials that are suitable and cost-effective, the technology can make the leap forward on its own.”

Caloric cooling represents a potential giant leap in energy efficiency compared to traditional vapor-compression refrigeration. “If you consider all the ways in which humans use cooling technologies globally, the societal impact and energy savings are enormous,” said Duane Johnson, chief research officer for Ames Laboratory. “In the U.S. it represents a 20 to 30 percent drop in energy needs for cooling.”

Led by Ames Laboratory, CaloriCoolTM includes Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, University of Maryland, Pennsylvania State University, United Technologies Research Center, GE Research, Astronautics Corporation of America, and Citrine Informatics.

“There is a technical revolution right now as breakthroughs in data science and materials science combine to provide breakthroughs in applied research,” said Mark Johnson, Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Office for EERE.  “As Ames is a globally recognized leader in the basic discoveries for caloric materials, which if developed could be an important technology for our energy future, we are pleased to see them engaging with industry to accelerate these discoveries towards potential applications.”

DOE’s Energy Materials Network will accelerate innovation around the clean energy industry’s most pressing materials challenges from early development stages to manufacturing, in support of the President’s Materials Genome Initiative.

“Through the Energy Materials Network, the National Labs and their partners will develop and apply cutting-edge new materials research tools that will allow us to dramatically accelerate clean energy materials discovery by doing things like using computers to search completely new parts of the periodic table at record speed and performing high-throughput experiments that synthesize and test thousands of materials at a time instead of just one or two,” said DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson. “This could be a true game-changer for accelerating cost reduction through innovation for a wide array of clean energy technologies all across the board.”

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) leads the U.S. Department of Energy’s efforts to develop and deliver market-driven solutions for energy-saving homes, building, and manufacturing; sustainable transportation; and renewable electricity generation.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit