Magnets Could Power Future Refrigerators

Feb. 20, 2017

For the past 100 years, the way your fridge preserved your food has been rooted in technology dating back to the mid-1800s, but that is about to change. GE researchers are developing the next leap in home refrigeration technology—magnetic refrigeration (magnetocaloric refrigeration). The 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 U.S. household’s energy consumption.

The Past 100 Years
Ice was the primary means of residential cold storage until advances in vapor compression technology sparked the first refrigeration revolution. GE launched its first electric refrigerator in 1927. Within four years, GE built 1 million electric refrigerators, and vapor compression became the industry standard. While the technology made steady progress over time, its efficiency threshold is approaching.

“We’ve spent the past 100 years making the current technology more efficient, but most of the major efficiency increases have been achieved,” explained Venkat Venkatakrishnan, director of advanced technologies for GE Appliances.

Rise of Magnetic Refrigeration
Although magnetocaloric cooling as a concept has been around for many years, in 2006, GE began exploring the technology for home refrigeration. A team of GE researchers started from scratch to show the technology could be applied to the real world of household refrigeration and still work efficiently. After five years of analysis and testing, they were able to achieve the desired cooling effect.

How It Works

The system uses a water-based fluid rather than a chemical refrigerant such as Freon to transfer heat from inside the refrigerator and achieve the cooling process. Instead of a compressor, magnets are used to create a magnetic field that agitates particles in the fluid causing it to cool. The strength of the magnetic fields determines how cold the fluid becomes, and in turn, how quickly it cools the refrigerator.

Lead Engineer Michael Benedict (left) and Venkat Venkatakrishnan (right), Director of Advanced Technologies, work in GE Appliances’ labs on magnetocaloric refrigeration technology that can replace traditional compressors used in refrigerators for the last 100 years.

Today, the team’s research is progressing rapidly, and is on track to move from the lab to residential homes within the next five years. “We figured out how to create heat or cold without a compressor or chemical refrigerants,” Venkatakrishnan said. “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.”

In addition to the work GE Appliances’ engineers are doing, GE Global Research and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are also working on the development. GE Global Research is using its materials expertise to work on developing new alloys as well as help with modeling and thermodynamics. ORNL is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to work in conjunction with GE to assess specific component and material requirements for stable and reliable operation of the refrigerator-freezer, evaluate magnetocaloric effect materials, and maximize the performance of the refrigerator-freezer in laboratory testing. For more information about the U.S. Department of Energy Building Technologies Office, visit energy.gov/eere/buildings/building-technologies-office.


Topics: Appliances, Building Green, Insulation, Kitchen, Sustainability Trends & Statistics

Companies: General Electric


Most Energy Efficient Air Conditioner in the US Goes on the Market

Most Energy Efficient Air Conditioner in the US Goes on the Market

The system provides 100 percent heating capacity down to -5 degrees Fahrenheit, for customers in the colder climates of North America.

How Aeroseal Duct Sealing Works

How Aeroseal Duct Sealing Works

Animated video describes the benefits of Aeroseal duct sealing for a homeowner.

Sponsored by: Aeroseal

Modular Tiny Home Plan Designed for Style and Comfort

Modular Tiny Home Plan Designed for Style and Comfort

Though the floor plan is compact, homeowners of the Saltbox won't have to sacrifice having friends over or entertaining.

Affordable Energy Efficient Housing Vital for Urban Redevelopment

Affordable Energy Efficient Housing Vital for Urban Redevelopment

Diverse housing stock will play an important role in the neighborhood revitalization strategy.

BeltLine Urban Redevelopment Connects Atlanta Neighborhoods

BeltLine Urban Redevelopment Connects Atlanta Neighborhoods

The BeltLine will connect 45 neighborhoods with trails and parks and has a focus on affordable housing as part of the redevelopment project.

Green Home Made Healthier with Whole Home Water Filtration System

Green Home Made Healthier with Whole Home Water Filtration System

The Proud Green Home of Louisville uses whole-home water filtration to provide fresh water to every fixture and appliance.

Sponsored by: Environmental Water Systems

Moving to High Performance Home Building is Worth the Learning Curve

Moving to High Performance Home Building is Worth the Learning Curve

As home energy codes drive performance, builders will have to find ways to build homes that meet those codes.

Award Winning Home Builder Still Learning New Ways to Excel

Award Winning Home Builder Still Learning New Ways to Excel

The value of the EEBA High Performance Home Summit for builders is in the gathering of like-minded pros to share the latest knowledge.

No Room for a Door? Slide it into the Wall

No Room for a Door? Slide it into the Wall

When you can't afford to lose the space that a swinging door takes up, install a door-in-the-wall.

Home Builder Embraces Green Building Responsibility

Home Builder Embraces Green Building Responsibility

Once the company found there was a better way to build homes, they simply made that standard practice.

Atlanta Builder Learns A Better Way to Build

Atlanta Builder Learns A Better Way to Build

Once builders learn there's a way to build a better building, there's no turning back.

Building a Brand May Be the Biggest Challenge for Builders

Building a Brand May Be the Biggest Challenge for Builders

While more buyers are making home performance a part of their decision process, a home has to offer more than that.

Home Builders Share Hard Won Knowledge at EEBA

Home Builders Share Hard Won Knowledge at EEBA

The 2017 Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) High Performance Home Summit in Atlanta drew builders and other professionals to share their knowledge.

Denver Home Builder Transitioned To High Performance Homes To Thrive In The Market

Denver Home Builder Transitioned To High Performance Homes To Thrive In The Market

Thrive Home Builders, an award-winning residential builder, began offering solar power on its homes to stand out in the competitive Denver market.


Related Content


Latest Content

Get the latest news & insights


NEWS

RESOURCES

TRENDING

FEATURES

California's Net Zero Mandate Is Shaking Up the Home Building Industry

RESEARCH CENTERS