GE is giving new meaning to the term “refrigerator magnet.” No, the appliance giant isn’t going to start making funny little quips and pics that hold your kid’s drawings to the fridge anytime soon. Rather, these magnets go inside the refrigerator, replacing the compressors that have been used to keep your leftovers cold for 100 years. While we have come to be comforted by the sudden whir of the refrigerator compressor, in our opinion, this technology is so 1950s. So it’s about time.
GE has figured out how to create heat or cold without a compressor or chemical refrigerants. According to the company, the next big thing in home refrigeration is magnetocaloric refrigeration, which uses absolutely no refrigerants or compressors and is 20 percent more efficient than what is used today. The technology can be used in other heat pump applications, like HVAC.
GE launched its first electric refrigerator in 1927 and within the first four years, more than one million GE electric refrigerators came off the line, and vapor compression became the industry standard. Before that, people had to use ice. Hence the term ‘icebox’. Now, the innovation that can be accomplished in compressor refrigeration has maxed out. “We’ve spent the past 100 years making the current technology more efficient, but most of the major efficiency increases have been achieved,” says Venkat Venkatakrishnan, director of advanced technologies for GE Appliances.
What is Magnetocaloric Refrigeration?
Although magnetocaloric cooling has has been around for awhile, in 2006 GE began exploring the technology to see if it could be efficently applied to the world of household refrigeration. Here is 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.
This will not only be more efficient, but make it easier to recycle refrigerators at the end of their life cycles. When will we see this exciting technology at home? GE says in the next five years. Compared to the life cycle of the compressor, which was invented in the mid-1800s, that’s not a long time to wait!