0319ctt magnetic fridge lo res

0319ctt magnetic fridge ge dudes lo res

GE Appliance’s Michael Benedict (left) and Venkat Venkatakrishnan (right) test magnetic refrigeration for the next generation of appliances. Credit: GE.

GE Appliances announced last week that it is focusing research on magnetic refrigeration for the next generation of refrigerators, which will be more environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

According to a Business Wire press release, GE’s “technology uses no refrigerants or compressors and is 20 percent more efficient than what is used today. In addition, the technology can be applied to other heat pump applications such as HVAC and has the potential to impact nearly 60 percent of the average US household’s energy consumption.”

With appliances, electronics, and lighting consuming about 35% of US home energy use, and heating and cooling devouring another 48% (see more stats from the US Energy Information Administration), it’s no wonder there’s a push is to make appliances more energy efficient.

As GE Director of Technologies Venkat Venkatakrishnan explains in the release, “We figured out how to create heat or cold without a compressor or chemical refrigerants. This breakthrough can power your fridge with greater efficiency, and because the technology does not contain traditional refrigerants, recycling refrigerators at end of life will be easier and less costly. GE is leading the development of the next refrigeration revolution.”

Sans refrigerants, the system uses water-based fluids containing magnetocaloric materials that are pumped through a series of rotating magnets. According to phys.org, the system currently uses nickel-manganese alloys, but GE researchers are working to develop new alloys as well. The system is essentially a heat pump, which takes heat from a cold area and moves it to a hotter area, that is, up the thermal gradient. Magnetocaloric refrigeration works by applying an alternating magnetic field to activate a heat pump process by agitating particles suspended in a fluid. In the presence of a magnetic field the particles get hot, and when the field is removed, they get cold (thanks to the adiabatic process).  A closed system of flowing water and heat exchangers is adjusted and the inside of the refrigerator chills.

The concept sounds simple, but getting a refrigerator to work well without a compressor is no simple task. GE researchers have been working on slimming down the system for several years, and still have more work to go before the system is whittled down to a compact refrigerator-sized component. However, GE says they are on track to offer residential magnetocaloric refrigerators in the next five years. Besides the GE Appliances group, researchers from GE Global Research and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are working on the technology.

Watch the video below to hear more from GE’s scientists about the technology. Although their lab prototype can’t yet cool a whole fridge-full of food, it can at least keep a can of Coors frosty.

Along with additional possible automotive and transportation applications, the future is looking pretty good for magnets.

GE Appliance lead engineer Michael Benedict explains the technology behind magnetic refrigeration for the next generation of appliances. Credit: GE (Youtube).

Feature image credit: Id1337x (Wikimedia Creative Commons License).