GE Develops Easily Recyclable Magnetic Refrigeration

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Researchers working in GE labs have used a special magnetic material to achieve temperatures cold enough to freeze water. The breakthrough system, which is projected to be 20 percent more efficient than current refrigeration technology, could be inside your fridge by the end of the decade.

The system is using a water-based fluid flowing through a series of magnets to transfer heat, rather than a chemical refrigerant and a compressor. This significantly lowers any harm to the environment and makes the recycling of old refrigerators simpler.

“This is a big deal,” says Venkat Venkatakrishnan, a leader of the research team. “We are on the cusp of the next refrigeration revolution.”

The most refreshing place on earth? Michael Benedict (left) and Venkat Venkatakrishnan used GE’s magnetic refrigeration system to chill a bottle of Coors Light.

The new technology is taking advantage of a century-old discovery called 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.

Thomas Edison toyed with the concept of building a magnetocaloric heat pump, a device that takes thermal energy from a cold space like the refrigerator and moves it into a hotter environment, like the kitchen. But he could not find any practical materials for pulling it off.

When GE launched the world’s first commercial electric refrigerator in 1927, it used a compressor for removing heat from the food storage. Most modern refrigerators and air conditioners still use the same technology today.

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“GE Develops Easily Recyclable Magnetic Refrigeration”