Environmentally-friendly products? Good. Lower energy bills? Great. Cold beer? Yes, please. GE’s new refrigeration prototype? The triple threat.
Researchers at General Electric Labs have developed a refrigeration system that promises to deliver on all three improvements. Operating on magnets, a special metal alloy, and a water-based fluid, GE’s new refrigerator looks to replace the basic compressor system that is nearly a century old with a cleaner, more efficient appliance.
The small prototype, currently approximately the size of a shopping cart, runs a water-based fluid through a specific metal alloy that has an alternating magnetic force applied to it. This creates a magnetocaloric effect, the process by which some metal alloys gain heat when near magnets and lose heat when pulled away. By running the fluid through the magnets, the new device is capable of triggering the effect for refrigeration.
According to Venkat Venkatakrishnan, a research team leader,
Nobody in the world has done this type of multi-stage cooling. We believe we are the first people who shrunk it enough so that it can be transported and shown. We were also the first to go below freezing with the stages.
Addressing the size, which has practicality implications, Michael Benedict, a design engineer at GE Appliances, adds,
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. The goal is to get this thing down to a size where you can put it in the refrigerator.
The current prototype, which is being tested the American way (with bottles of Coors Light), is able to reduce temperatures by 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The model predicts that a full-sized appliance with this technology would be 20-30% more efficient than a traditional compressor refrigerator, which would cut down on power emissions as well as your energy costs. Not to mention, this new refrigerator wouldn’t require any chemical refrigerants, aiding an easier recycling process.
The technology is still some years from commercial viability, but you should be able to cool your groceries with magnets within the next decade. Check out the video below for a more in-depth look at how it works.