IN A WARMING world it helps to stay cool. But doing so also threatens the planet. Most air conditioners use refrigerant gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Though these do not deplete Earth’s ozone layer in the way the chlorofluorocarbons they replaced back in the mid-1990s did, they are hundreds of times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide is. Less-potent greenhouse gases are now being phased in as refrigerants, but these are not without problems of their own. They can be expensive, and some are inflammable.

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Researchers have long sought ways to produce cooling systems that do without

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