When put under pressure, plastic crystals of neopentylglycol yield huge cooling effects - enough that they are competitive with conventional coolants.
The gases currently used in the vast majority of refrigerators and air conditioners --hydrofluorocarbons and hydrocarbons (HFCs and HCs) -- are toxic and flammable.
When they leak into the air, they also contribute to global warming.
"Refrigerators and air conditioners based on HFCs and HCs are also relatively inefficient," said Dr Xavier Moya, from the University of Cambridge, who led the research with Professor Josep Lluís Tamarit, from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.
"That's important because refrigeration and air conditioning currently devour a fifth of the energy produced worldwide, and demand for cooling is only going up."
To solve these problems, materials scientists around the world have sought alternative solid refrigerants.