Taming heat with tiny pressure


Heat is almost everywhere. Unlike electricity, which can be easily manipulated, the current ability to control heat is still highly limited owing to spontaneous thermal dissipation imposed by the second law of thermodynamics. The research team, led by Prof. LI Bing from the Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IMR, CAS), has developed a groundbreaking pressure-controllable thermal energy storage technology using the pressure-induced crystallization of glassy crystal phases in plastic crystal materials. This work was published in the journal of The Innovation.

As a hybrid solid state of matter, a glassy crystal state combines both crystalline and glassy features in a single-phase material. It represents a structure in which the mass centers of molecules develop a high-symmetry lattice with the molecular orientations randomly frozen over the lattice sites, resulting in static orientational disorder.

In this study, the researchers spectroscopically demonstrate the glassy crystal state of 2-amino-2-methyl-1,3-propanediol (AMP) to realise an affordable, easily manageable approach for thermal energy recycling. The supercooled state of AMP is so sensitive to pressure that even several mega-pascals can induce crystallization to the ordered crystal, resulting in a substantial temperature increase of 48 K within 20 seconds. Furthermore, we demonstrate a proof-of-concept device capable of programming heat with an extremely high work-to-heat conversion efficiency of ~383.

It overcomes the drawbacks of traditional thermal energy storage technologies that rely on insulation conditions. Without the need for any insulation measures, it provides a new means for precise, controllable, and orderly reuse of thermal energy. Such delicate, efficient tuning of heat might remarkably facilitate the rational utilization of waste heat. The team is also actively exploring the application of this technology in areas such as cold start of power systems and thermal management in spacecraft.

This study was done in collaboration with Prof. LUO Jiangshui (Sichuan University) and Dr. YU Dehong (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) and other collaborators.

The work was supported by the Key Research Program of Frontier Sciences of Chinese Academy of Sciences, the CSNS Consortium on High-performance Materials of Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Liaoning Provincial Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholar.

Application of pressure-controllable heat storage technology in heating rooms. (Image by IMR)
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