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New refrigerator technology will make compressors and refrigerants obsolete, boost energy efficiency

By Mary Beth Breckenridge Published: March 13, 2014
magnetic
Lead engineer Michael Benedict (left) and Venkat Venkatakrishnan, director of advanced technologies, work in GE Appliances’ labs on magnetocaloric refrigeration technology. The technology can replace traditional compressors.

Your next refrigerator might not even have a compressor.

GE Appliances is developing magnetic refrigeration for residential use, a technology that needs no refrigerants or compressors and promises to increase the energy efficiency of refrigerators by 20 percent.

The company showcased its research for the media during a video conference this morning.

Magnetic refrigeration – technically called magnetocaloric refrigeration – is not a new concept, but it hasn’t yet been used in residential refrigeration. That should happen within five years, the company said in a news release.

Here’s how GE describes the technology:

“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. Instead of a compressor, magnets are used to create a magnetic field 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.”

The lack of refrigerant also will make recycling used refrigerators easier and cheaper, noted Venkat Venkatakrishnan, GE Appliances' director of advanced technologies.

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