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New DOE-Funded Technology Leads to Major Refrigeration Breakthrough

Ryan Pollin for Zondits, August 20, 2014

Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and General Electric (GE) have made significant strides on a new refrigeration technology that utilizes the magnetocaloric effect to manipulate temperature using magnetic fields. Using up to 50 stages of magnetic fields generated by a new iron-manganese alloy, the technology can reduce temperatures of a medium up to 80°F. GE claims that once commercialized, the system could save about 20% compared to a standard efficiency residential refrigerator. Moreover, since the magnetic cooling system uses a water-based fluid, there are no traditional chemical fluids used in the system. This is a very appealing improvement over vapor compression cycle refrigeration, which is dependent upon toxic refrigerants that contribute significant greenhouse gases.

The work is funded by $2 million in Department of Energy funding provided by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and is poised to transition to a commercialized technology in residential refrigeration within five years. While the focus is currently commercializing the technique for residential refrigeration, it appears likely that the technology will eventually transfer to cooling equipment in other industries, and perhaps heating equipment like heat pumps.

Time will tell how far this technology innovation will reach, but given its energy advantages and a guarantee to be free from EPA regulatory restrictions like those imposed on traditional refrigerants, it seems as though we may see magnetocaloric cooling fall into favor.

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Using Magnets to Keep Cool: Breakthrough Technology Boosts Energy Efficiency of Refrigerators

Energy.Gov, July 29, 2014

Household refrigerators are essential for keeping food cool and safe. However, these appliances use a lot of energy, and generate emissions that negatively impact the environment. New technology funded by the Energy Department has led to a major breakthrough in refrigeration systems that could yield big energy savings for consumers and greatly reduce carbon pollution.

With help from about $2 million in Energy Department funding through the Recovery Act, General Electric (GE) partnered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers to develop magnetic cooling technology — an innovative approach that uses a 50-stage system combined with a new type of iron-manganese alloy to remove heat and reduce temperatures by up to 80ºF.

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