GE Labs researchers have succeeded in chilling beer with magnetic technology, a major revolution in home refrigeration.
Researchers in GE Labs have unveiled what very well may be the next generation of refrigeration: magnets. This method is radically different than current compressor-powered refrigeration, and will be about 20 to 30 percent more efficient. Though it is still being developed, the team released pictures of prototype machines chilling beer.
A New Solution 100 Years in the Making
The concept of using magnets to cool surfaces is almost as old as the refrigerator itself. In a phenomenon called the magnetocaloric effect, materials passed through a magnetic field trade off thermal energy, becoming cooler. The effect was observed by Emil Warburg in 1881, and even Thomas Edison tinkered with the possible use of the effect as a practical home solution. But the experts had mostly written it off as too expensive and impractical to be used for home refrigeration.
The reason GE's announcement is being celebrated is that their researchers have found a way to reproduce the effect to cool a small area without a lot of bulky equipment. At the moment, the chilling surface looks like a very high-tech beer cozy, but the success so far is very encouraging.
German and US researchers for GE took up the problem of finding a practical way of using the technology for home refrigeration. After 5 years, they had managed to create equipment that would reduce the temperature by only 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
The major breakthrough was when an alloy, or combination of metals, was identified and created that drastically improved the cooling effect, and would operate at room temperature. The prototype refrigeration unit can now reduce temperatures by 80 degrees Fahrenheit, making this the first effort to use the magnetacoloric effect to achieve below-freezing temperatures with a portable prototype.
While the magnetic-powered technology has been considered unfeasible for home use until now, for the past 100 years our refrigerators have used compressor coils to keep our food cold.
“We’ve spent the last 100 years to make the current refrigeration technology more efficient,” said GE researcher Venkat Venkatakrishnan. “Now we are working on technology for the next 100 years.”
The new technology is very hopeful, as it could mean a drastic drop in the electricity required to power refrigerators, one of the most power-hungry appliances in the home. The GE team has conducted demonstrations of the prototype to the EPA and the White House.
But don't go looking for magnetic refrigerators just yet. The team's next goal is to improve the cooling effect so that temperature drops of 100 degrees can be achieved, as well as further reductions in size of the equipment.
How It Works
Rotating magnets chill a water-based coolant that is pumped in a circuit that in turns chills the beer.
See this video explaining the process in a bit more detail:
Would you buy a magnet-powered refrigerator? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!