GE just developed a brand new refrigerator that uses special magnetic materials to achieve temperatures cold enough to freeze water. The magnetic fridge is estimated to be 20% more efficient than current refrigeration technology, and it could be available by the end of the decade.
GE’s fridge prototype sends a water-based fluid through a series of magnets in order to transfer heat, rather than using a chemical refrigerant and a compressor. This lowers the refrigerator’s environmental footprint by making it easier to recycle. The project’s team leader Venkat Venkatakrishnan said: “It’s a big deal. We are on the cusp of the next refrigeration revolution.”
The new “magnetocaloric” technology is based on a similar premise developed in the 1880s by German physicist Emil Warburg, who noted that certain metals heat up when placed near magnets. However the new GE technology uses a “cascade of special magnetic materials” to provide refigeration.
“We are taking a chunk of heat and pushing it down the ladder, from the cold insides of the refrigerator to the warm room outside” Venkatakrishnan says. “We started with a huge machine that didn’t do very much, but we’ve moved to a prototype that’s about the size of a cart,” says Michael Benedict, design engineer at GE Appliances. “The goal is to get this thing down to a size where you can put it in the refrigerator.”
The team’ s goal is now working to achieve a 100-degree drop in temperature at low power. “We’ve spent the last 100 years to make the current refrigeration technology more efficient,” Venkatakrishnan says. “Now we are working on technology for the next 100 years.”