GE to take next leap in magnetocaloric refrigeration (w/ video)

Mar 14, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog
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. Credit: GE

(Phys.org) —Before the microwave gained fame as a kitchen wonder, there was the, gasp, refrigerator, a kitchen wonder that could freeze meat and keep ice cream from melting on top, while preserving the life of leftovers and milk, juice and eggs below. For Americans, GE became an entrenched brand name in owning the modern fridge. Now GE wants to write the second chapter in home refrigeration. This week GE announced its research focus on magnetic (magnetocaloric) refrigeration, which uses no refrigerants or compressors and is 20 percent more efficient than what is used today. The technique involves the use of a water-based fluid and magnets. Rotating magnets change the magnetic field back and forth and pump water-based cooling fluid between the cold side to the hot side.

"This is a big deal," said Venkat Venkatakrishnan, a leader of the research team. "We are on the cusp of the next revolution." GE said the technology could be at work inside the fridge by the end of the decade; the company expects to commercialize their magnetic refrigeration technology by 2020.

One key benefit being touted is efficiency. In figuring out how to create the cold without chemical refrigerants or compression, Venkatakrishnan said the technology carries greater efficiency. Also, "because the technology does not contain traditional refrigerants, recycling refrigerators at end of life will be easier and less costly."

Specifically, 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. In place of the compressor, magnets create a , said a GE report, 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 video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Michael Benedict, Lead Engineer for GE Appliances' magnetocaloric project, explains how the technology will be used to keep refrigerators cool in the near future

(Their technology takes advantage of an old discovery, the magnetocaloric effect. In the 1880s, German physicist Emil Warburg observed that certain metals would heat up near magnets and cool down when taken away.)

The team's materials scientists developed a type of nickel-manganese alloys for magnets that function at room temperatures. Engineers arranged the magnets in a series of 50 cooling stages. Today they are capable of reducing temperature by 80 degrees. The team aims to achieve a 100-degree drop in temperature at low power."We are focusing on magnetic refrigeration as a potential replacement for all the refrigeration technologies currently in use," said Michael Benedict, lead engineer for GE Appliances' magnetocaloric project.

According to GE, 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 US household's energy consumption.

Explore further: The future of staying cool: New project could completely change the refrigeration industry

More information: Press release

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User comments : 10

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PhyOrgSux
1.5 / 5 (4) Mar 14, 2014
"magnets are used to create a magnetic field that agitates particles in the fluid causing it to cool"

hmm I thought that agitated particles have a higher temperature (like what can be seen in hot water on a stove top).

Or are they here talking about canceling the particles agitation, slowing them down, and thus cooling them?
MontgomeryScott
3 / 5 (4) Mar 14, 2014
You would think such smart guys with a budget for cutting edge technology would drink better beer or maybe the idea is if the experiment goes horribly wrong, it's no big loss.

"it's...It's... It's green"
jahbless
5 / 5 (2) Mar 15, 2014
"magnets are used to create a magnetic field that agitates particles in the fluid causing it to cool"

hmm I thought that agitated particles have a higher temperature (like what can be seen in hot water on a stove top).

Or are they here talking about canceling the particles agitation, slowing them down, and thus cooling them?

Presumably the heat from the agitated particles would be transferred to the outside of the icebox, leading to a cooler ambient temperature inside the icebox (like a conventional fridge or air condition unit).
mzso
4.6 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2014
A quick search on wikipedia tells me:
"Cooltech has been trying to commercialize this technology since 2011. At the end of 2013, a production line was completed with a capacity of 10,000 units /year and the first assembled products."

"At the end of 2013, Cooltech Applications announced that its first refrigeration equipment should be placed on the professional market for 2014."

So they trying to pass of their panicked attempt at catching up as a revolution....
winthrom
3.8 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2014
Should work for heating also.
COCO
1 / 5 (2) Mar 15, 2014
maybe they can apply it to the Fuku Flu
mexicolder
1 / 5 (1) Mar 16, 2014
"In figuring out how to create the cold without chemical refrigerants or compression, Venkatakrishnan said the technology carries greater efficiency"

The convention is that you cannot "Create" cold? Rather remove heat. Based on this I find that Venkatakrishnan maybe confused as to how heat flows? Or am I behind the times?
Osiris1
1 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2014
Half the small refridges in campers now use a compressorless design. Not new! And the camper style semiconductor designs do not use a chemical refrigerant gas OR liquid. Why not scale up those. AS it is, those water units will be unreliable in a cold climate subject to random power failures from a provider utility. The price of power loss will be permanent freeze damage to all such units as the refrigerant .....freezes and breaks the systems apart from within. Unless of course they want to 'contaminate' the water with ethanol....make it abusable by drinking; or contaminate it with 'other' solutes....make it poison hazards for kids; etc.
marklade
Mar 16, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Timelord
not rated yet Mar 17, 2014
It looks great.
Just one remark :
Wouldn't it be better to change the EM-polarity electrically to minimize moving parts

I could use this system very well on my project. (GE ecomagination 2011)
Eikka
2 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2014
Half the small refridges in campers now use a compressorless design. Not new! And the camper style semiconductor designs do not use a chemical refrigerant gas OR liquid. Why not scale up those.


Because they're hardly efficient.

A compressor operated phase changing refridgerator has a coefficient of power around 4-5 and a solid state thermoelectric system has a coefficient of roughly 0.9-1.1 The CoP is the measure of how much heat is being removed per input power.

The thermoelectric coolers cannot work over a large temperature difference, and their CoP diminishes to roughly zero with 70 C of difference, which in practice means you can hardly keep ice frozen if it's properly warm outside.

The reason why campers come with such inefficient systems is because compressor based systems are more expensive and take up more room out of the box when miniaturized to operate at low power.