There are all sorts of ways to make a home more eco-friendly, but did you ever think magnets could help? Specifically, the magnetocaloric effect could play a role in futuristic refrigerators that wouldn’t need industrial coolants to run, which would be a boon in the fight against climate change. Sign me up.
So how can magnets bring us closer to energy-free refrigeration? The atoms making up a piece of metal, once allowed to roam freely, start to align in one direction when in the presence of a magnet and its magnetic field. This loss of entropy creates a vibration – better known as “heat” – meaning that magnets in action are producing warmth on a molecular level. This magnetocaloric effect is mild in many metals, but some really get toasty, such as gadolinium.
Now here’s the interesting part. Just as the presence of a magnetic field heats up metal, when the field is taken away, a cooling effect takes place. Labs use small magnetic refrigerators by applying a substance to carry away the magnetic field, typically helium, leaving a chill in its place. While this process has been used for a while now, its unclear as to when advances may be made for the future of consumer refrigeration. Yet, the idea of a fridge that runs on magnets is pretty darn cool (pun definitely intended).