Shape memory alloys: cooling with metal muscles

Researchers from the University of Saarland (Germany) are constructing an optimized prototype for an air-cooling system in which heat and cold are transferred using “muscles” made from a nickel-titanium alloy thanks to the elastocaloric effect.
Shape memory alloys (SMAs) are used to remove heat thanks to elastocaloric effect. “Shape memory” means that wires or sheets made from a nickel-titanium alloy have a certain ability to remember their original shape. If a nickel-titanium wire or sheet is deformed, the change in the crystal structure (phase transition) causes the shape memory alloy to become hotter.

If the stressed sample is allowed to relax after temperature equalization with the environment, it undergoes substantial cooling to about 20 degrees below ambient temperature.

The basic idea this research team had was to remove heat from a space by allowing a pre-stressed shape memory material to relax and thus cool significantly. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has agreed to invest a further 500,000 euros into the project. In total, 950,000 euros have been injected so far.