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Barocal’s £1.3m funding will help develop sustainable heat pumps

Barocal, the zero-carbon refrigeration pioneer spun out of the University of Cambridge, has secured a £1.3million investment.

Air conditioning cools the air, but the environmental cost is horrendous
Air conditioning cools the air, but the environmental cost is horrendous

The money will be used to accelerate commercialisation of its barocaloric cooling technology, which can be used for environmentally-friendly heat pumps as well as air conditioning.

This non-vapour compression technology is helping to transform conventional air conditioning units, which contribute to a vicious cycle whereby cooling the air in a building adds to greenhouse gas emissions through increased energy use. They also leak hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The International Energy Agency predicts that around two-thirds of the world’s households could have air conditioning by 2050, with the demand for energy to cool buildings tripling.

Barocal first made headlines in 2019 when it was the sole European finalist in the Global Cooling Prize.

Instead of using refrigerant gases with high global warming potential, Barocal’s technology uses new solid-state, temperature-changing materials. Cheap and non-toxic, they are organic materials that release and absorb heat at different pressures as they change volume. Known as barocaloric materials, they are more efficient than fluid refrigerants. And, as they are solids, they are more environmentally friendly and easier to recycle at the end of a product’s lifetime.

Now Barocal has secured additional funding to turn its attention to providing a much-needed cost-effective, efficient, environmentally friendly alternative to expensive air source heat pumps for homes and businesses.

Barocal co-founder Dr Xavier Moya at the University of Cambridge Department of Materials and Metallurgy. Picture: Richard Marsham
Barocal co-founder Dr Xavier Moya at the University of Cambridge Department of Materials and Metallurgy. Picture: Richard Marsham

“Heating and cooling accounts for 38 per cent of the UK’s CO₂ emissions,” says Dr Xavier Moya, who co-founded Barocal based on his research in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge. “So the government’s commitment to a 78 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2035 means there is a growing need for new low-carbon domestic heating systems.

“Current alternatives, such as hydrogen boilers and traditional heat pumps, are expensive and not practical for many homes. Barocal’s revolutionary new heat pump, based on non-vapour compression technology, holds the promise of a cost-effective, efficient and environmentally friendly solution for domestic and commercial heating systems as well as air conditioning and refrigeration.”

The £1.3m investment in Barocal was led by IP Group, which focuses on funding innovations to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

“Barocal is perfectly aligned with our mission to generate positive social and environmental impact by helping to evolve great ideas into world-changing businesses,” said IP Group investment director Eva Kirkby Leary.

The work on the technology began as a joint project between the Department of Materials and Metallurgy at the University of Cambridge, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and the University of Barcelona.

Barocal now has a licence for the technology from Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, which has also participated in the funding as part of a new sustainability initiative. Over the next four years, it aims to support at least 15 of the university’s spin-outs and start-ups working on technology that will rapidly cut emissions of global warming gases.

“Barocal is the latest example of our early investments in transformative sustainable technologies,” said Cambridge Enterprise investment manager Chris Gibbs. “Our mission is to support entrepreneurs and academics with the potential to disrupt industries for the benefit of society and the planet.”

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