What Barocal Ltd are doing to make air conditioning tech more climate-friendly

Three children walking together down a colourful alley
Global Cooling Prize
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
9 March 2020

An estimated 3.3 billion room air-conditioning units will be installed in the world between now and 2050  – most of these units will be inefficient and will place a significant burden on electricity grid infrastructure and consumers in developing countries. 

Drastic transformation of residential cooling tech can improve people’s health, productivity, and well-being, all while avoiding runaway climate change.

Last year eight of the world’s leading air conditioning manufacturers were announced as finalists for the Global Cooling Prize – an innovation competition focused on unearthing and developing climate-friendly residential cooling solutions.

Three children walk down a street with their arms around each other and their backs to the camera. Underneath the image, text reads 'Global Cooling Prize'
Global Cooling Prize

Each finalist received $200,000 for inventing their affordable cooling solution – and since then they’ve been developing their prototypes for further testing. The team behind the prize have created an eight-part video series showcasing their finalists' breakthrough cooling technologies – and this month they’ve featured Barocal Ltd.

Barocal Ltd’s non-vapor compression tech – known as Barocaloric cooling technology – could potentially transform air conditioning and make it more climate friendly.

Instead of using refrigerant gases with high global warming potential, solid-state Barocaloric cooling takes advantage of the properties of solid organic ‘plastic crystal’ materials to provide cooling. The process of continuously ‘applying and releasing pressure’ on the barocaloric material results in solid-to-solid phase changes in the crystals, leading to temperature changes  due to molecular reconfiguration. This produces a cooling effect, which can be delivered either to the room air or to produce chilled water for cooling.

Barocal Ltd., a new spin-out from a University of Cambridge lab, has been selected as one of the eight Finalists of the Global Cooling Prize. Learn more about Barocal Ltd.'s solid state cooling solution from Prof. Xavier Moya.

These plastic crystals are flexible materials that are widely available, low-cost and non-toxic. Research shows that the thermodynamic behaviour of these plastic crystal materials is very similar to commonly used refrigerants, thus having the potential to create a viable and alternative cooling approach to century-old vapor compression tech.

The Global Cool Prize is made possible through a coalition of partners – all committed to making cooling available for all, without warming the planet.

Listen to the Earth Unscrewed episode: Cooling solutions to a warming planet featuring Radhika Lalit, manager of the Global Cooling Prize, as she talks about the incredibly troubling position the planet is in due to inefficient room air conditioners.