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Penn State Professor Wins 2019 Humboldt Research Award

A Penn State University professor has received the 2019 Humboldt Research Award to develop a new high-efficiency solid-state electrocaloric (EC) cooling method.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation gave the award to Qiming Zhang, a distinguished professor of electrical engineering at Penn State.

According to the Foundation’s website, the award is given to 100 researchers worldwide in recognition of their academic achievements and research.

In his past work, Zhang and his colleagues recognized that refrigeration, air conditioning and cooling overall, make up 25 percent of total electricity use in the U.S. However, the systems currently in place to support these technologies are supported by the vapor-cycle refrigeration, a 19th century technology.


“The refrigerants in the compression-based cooling systems that are currently used in refrigerators, air conditioners, that sort of thing, are one of the leading causes of climate change, according to Drawdown,” Zhang said.

“If we could replace these compression-based systems with solid-state electrocaloric systems, we could dramatically reduce climate change.”

Zhang will collaborate with colleagues at research institutes in Germany on a project to create a new class of ferroelectrics that can generate a large temperature change when connecting to wall power supplies, hopefully replacing vapor-cycle refrigeration entirely.

“I am looking forward to the day when these systems replace the 19th-century technology,” Zhang added.

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