Envision opening your refrigerator on a hot summer day, hoping for a refreshing drink, and realizing that this common appliance operates using a revolutionary technology that’s kind to our environment. This isn’t a scene from the distant future but a reality brought closer by the latest advancements in cooling technology. Scientists have developed a new type of refrigerator that relies on heat, instead of harmful chemicals or intricate mechanical parts, to keep things cold. This cutting-edge approach not only offers a glimpse into a future where our cooling needs align with environmental stewardship but also redefines our traditional notions of refrigeration.

Keeping our food fresh and living spaces comfortable, refrigeration is integral to modern life. Yet, the environmental toll of traditional cooling systems, particularly their role in greenhouse gas emissions, has driven researchers to seek greener solutions. Among these, a pioneering approach is the heat-driven thermoacoustic refrigerator. This system creates a cooling effect through the interaction of sound waves with a gas, sidestepping the need for harmful refrigerants and complex moving parts.

Leading this innovative research are Professor Ercang Luo, Dr. Zhanghua Wu, and Lei Xiao from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They’ve achieved a significant breakthrough in cooling efficiency. Their study, featured in Cell Reports Physical Science, showcases a highly efficient cooling system achieving impressive energy efficiency, outperforming many current technologies.

Central to their design is a clever bypass configuration that manages energy flow within the system for improved efficiency. By optimizing the proportion of bypassed energy flow, this setup allows the system to work more effectively, especially at higher temperatures. Such advancements could revolutionize air conditioning and have applications in cooling processes for gases like natural gas and hydrogen.

Dr. Zhanghua Wu shared insights into their system’s unique benefits, explaining how it employs sound and heat interactions for cooling. Unlike traditional methods that can be loss-heavy, their design connects a cooling engine and cooler through a special tube, enhancing efficiency.

The team’s work directly addresses the urgent need for environmentally friendly and effective cooling solutions. Through harnessing thermal-sound conversion principles and refining the system’s energy management, they’ve not only set new efficiency records but also shown the practical potential of this technology.

Highlighting the project’s broader significance, Professor Ercang Luo remarked on the motivation behind seeking higher efficiency through increased temperature use. Embracing such strategies allows for better energy utilization, echoing the principles of optimal energy use and sustainability. As society faces climate change challenges and the push for sustainable technologies, the achievements of Professor Luo, Dr. Wu, Lei Xiao, and their team shine as beacons of innovation. Offering a promising alternative to conventional cooling methods, their work propels the field of refrigeration forward while contributing to global environmental preservation efforts.


Lei Xiao, Kaiqi Luo, Zhanghua Wu, et al., “A highly efficient heat-driven thermoacoustic cooling system,” Cell Reports Physical Science, February 21, 2024.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.xcrp.2024.101815.


Lei Xiao (xiaolei21@mails.ucas.ac.cn)

Lei Xiao obtained his Bachelor degree from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in 2021. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences. His research focuses on thermoacoustic and Stirling systems, especially the heat-driven thermoacoustic refrigeration.

Zhanghua Wu (zhhwoo@mail.ipc.ac.cn)

Zhanghua Wu obtained his Bachelor degree from Zhejiang University in 2001 and his Ph.D. degree from Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2006. He is currently an associate professor of Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry. His research focuses on thermoacoustic and Stirling systems, including the refrigeration and electric power generation based on thermoacoustic and Stirling technologies.

Ercang Luo ( ecluo@mail.ipc.ac.cn)

Ercang Luo obtained his Bachelor degree from Tsinghua University in 1990 and his Ph.D. degree from the Cryogenic Laboratory of Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1997. He is currently a professor of Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry. His current research interest mainly focuses on new refrigeration and power generation technologies, including thermoacoustic and Stirling refrigerators, thermoacoustic and Stirling generators, as well as supersonic expansion refrigeration technology.