Magnetic Refrigeration for Near Room-Temperature Applications

University dissertation from KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: Refrigeration plays a crucial role in many different sectors and consumes about 17% of the electricity produced globally. This significant energy consumption implies large share of refrigeration in primary energy consumption and other environmental impacts. In addition to the environmental impacts associated with energy consumption, the vapor-compression systems contribute in global warming due to the release of their gaseous refrigerants into the atmosphere. As an alternative technology for near room-temperature applications, magnetic refrigeration is proposed by some researchers to eliminate the release of gaseous refrigerants into the atmosphere and to reduce the energy consumption. This thesis is a compilation of a number of studies done on magnetic refrigeration for room-temperature applications.In the first study, the environmental impacts associated to magnetic refrigeration are looked at closely through a life cycle assessment. The life cycle assessment indicates that because of the environmental burdens related to the rare-earth materials used in magnetic refrigeration, the reduction in the environmental impacts is not guaranteed by switching to magnetic refrigeration technology. Accordingly to avoid the extra environmental impacts the magnetic refrigeration systems should use magnetic materials frugally, which requires an optimized design. In addition, operation with higher efficiency compared to vapor-compression systems is necessary to have environmental advantages, at least in some impact categories.A practical method to optimize the design of magnetic refrigeration systems, e.g. to have a compact design or high efficiency, is utilizing a flexible software model, with which the effect of varying different parameters on the performance of the system can be simulated. Such a software model of the magnetic refrigeration system is developed and validated in this project. In developing the model one goal is to add to the precision of the simulated results by taking more details into consideration. This goal is achieved by an innovative way of modeling the parasitic heat transfer and including the effect of the presence of magnetocaloric materials on the strength of the field created by the magnet assembly. In addition, some efforts are made to modify or correct the existing correlations to include the effect of binding agents used in some active magnetic regenerators. Validation of the developed software model is done using the experimental results obtained from the prototype existing at the Department of Energy Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology.One of the parameters that can be modified by the developed software model is the choice of the magnetocaloric materials for each layer in a layered active magnetic regenerator. Utilizing the software model for optimizing the choice of the materials for the layers reveals that materials with critical temperatures equal to the cyclic average temperature of the layers in which they are used do not necessarily result in the desired optimum performance. In addition, for maximizing different outputs of the models, such as energy efficiency or temperature lift sustained at the two ends of the regenerators, different choice of materials for the layers are needed. Therefore, in other studies seeking to improve one of the outputs of a system, the choice of the transition or critical temperatures of the materials for each layer is an additional parameter to be optimized.The prototype existing at the Department of Energy Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, was initially designed for replacing the vapor-compression system of a professional refrigerator. However, it could not fulfil the requirements for which it was initially designed. The aforementioned developed simulation model is used to see how much the choice of the materials, size of the particles, and number of layers can enhance the performance while the operation frequency and flow rate of the heat transfer fluid are at their optimum values. In other words, in that study the room for improvement in the performance without applying major changes in the system such as the geometry of the regenerator, which implies redesigning the whole magnet assembly, is investigated. In the redesign process the effect of binding agent and the limitations associated to different properties of it is also investigated theoretically. Nevertheless, the study did not show that with keeping the geometry of the regenerators and the currently existing magnetocaloric materials the initial goals of the prototype can be achieved.In the next study more flexible choice of geometries and magnetocaloric materials are considered. In fact, in this study it is investigated how much the magnetocaloric materials need to be improved so that magnetic refrigeration systems can compete with vapor-compression ones in terms of performance. For the two investigated cases, the magnetic-field dependent properties of the currently existing materials are enough provided that some other issues such as low mechanical stability and inhomogeneity of the properties are solved. Nevertheless, for more demanding design criteria, such as delivering large cooling capacity over a considerable temperature span while the magnetic materials are used sparingly, the magnetic-field dependent properties need to be enhanced, as well.A less explored area in room-temperature magnetic refrigeration is the subject of another study included in the thesis. In this study, solid-state magnetic refrigeration systems with Peltier elements as heat switches are modeled. Since the Peltier elements consume electricity to pump heat, the modeled systems can be considered hybrid magnetocaloric-Peltier cooling systems. For such systems the detailed transient behavior of the Peltier elements together with layers of magnetocaloric materials are modeled. The mathematical model is suitable for implementation in programing languages without the need for commercial modeling platforms. The parameters affecting the performance of the modeled system are numerous, and optimization of them requires a separate study. However, the preliminary attempts on optimizing the modeled system does not give promising results. Accordingly, focusing on passive heat switches can be more beneficial.