Refrigeration technology hasn’t really changed much since it was introduced almost a century ago. However, General Electric (GE) who developed the first electric fridge, is now exploring the use of magnets to produce a more energy efficient refrigeration solution.
GE has employed the use of magnetocaloric technology, which operates the same type of heat pump used in traditional fridges but rather than compression, it is driven by magnetism.
Magnetocaloric methods have been around for some time but have never been put to a practical use. When some metals are exposed to a magnetic field, they heat up; take the magnet away and they cool again. GE exploited this trait and used it as a heat exchanger rather than vapour compression. Now, thanks to more advanced alloys and stronger magnets, magnetocaloric technology can finally be a serious contender for the traditional refrigerator.
The prototype that GE is working on has 60W of cooling, which is a little short of the 100W that current home refrigeration works at but the company is confident that within five years it can catch up.
The only downside is that it costs four times more to produce a magnetocaloric refrigerator, compared to a normal one but when you consider that the new technology provides 20% more efficiency, overall it has the potential to save billions and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
[Image via GE]