For all our recent technological advances, one thing has remained curiously frozen in the past – the refrigerator. While modern electric refrigerators have continuously gotten more energy efficient, they’re still based on technology that was developed in the 1800s. Yeah, that’s an 8, and it’s not a typo. But, here in the 2000s, GE has been working on a new way to do refrigeration, and it’s now only a few years from hitting the market. How does it work? Magnets, of course! What can’t they do?
The refrigerators that we’re used to rely on freon – a chemical that is compressed and goes through a series of heating and cooling processes so that it can absorb heat within the refrigerator. There are two major problems with that – one, freon isn’t environmentally friendly, which complicates the disposal of old refrigerators, and two, we’ve pretty much maxed out the efficiency for freon-based refrigerators.
What GE is developing now is called magnetocaloric cooling. Instead of compressed freon, this new technology will use a water-based liquid and magnetic fields to achieve cooling. The stronger the magnetic field, the greater the cooling effect will be, so you’ll still be able to control the temperature within your refrigerator like you would today. Magnetocaloric cooling has the potential to be 20 percent more efficient than current refrigerators, and they’ll be cheaper to recycle without all the freon, so there are some good reasons why you’ll see this technology come to market soon, once there’s been a little more research and development.
This technology might not be just relegated to refrigerators, though – GE is saying it could also have applications for heating. All told, this could have an impact on 60 percent of the average household’s energy use – so if it is 20 percent more efficient, you can imagine what that will do to your electricity bill. Just hope that the electric company doesn’t raise your rates accordingly.