Magnetocaloric Materials Chill Next-Generation Refrigerators

You’ve seen them. You may even decorate with them. The ubiquitous “sticker-uppers” that cover your refrigerator, helping to keep your family’s appointments semi-organized, your childrens’ Picasso-like artwork prominently displayed, your “hey, you never know” ticket still in play .. until you check the lottery numbers.

Now, magnets are about to get a lot cooler. In fact, the inside of your refrigerator will say “ah” as its contents cool down, thanks to a new process that puts magnets on the inside to provide a more energy-efficient method for keeping food and beverages cold.

These state-of-the-art cooling refrigerators use a newly developed material that changes temperature based on how strongly magnetized it becomes. Put the food close to the magnet (high magnetization) and it will become hotter. Move it away (demagnetization) and the food cools down. GE researchers predict the cooling refrigerators could reduce energy consumption by 20%, in addition to being a quieter and greener alternative for consumers.

“Between this new material and a permanent magnet somewhat stronger than on the outside of a refrigerator, we can control the temperature inside the refrigerator to the desired temperature,” said Frank Johnson, a materials scientist and project leader on GE’s magnetic refrigeration project.

Developed over the past decade, these new magnetocaloric materials have the potential to revolutionize refrigerators and other products that require efficient cooling technologies. It will also provide new technology that helps meets increasing regulation of greenhouse gases.

Not content to look at just the near future, however, GE Global Researchers recently concluded research projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the next generation of magnetocaloric materials and permanent magnets. Though still in the early stages, these new magnetic materials would further improve the competitiveness of magnetic refrigeration technology.

So the next time you plop a magnet on your refrigerator door, consider that in perhaps 5 years, its cool cousin could be the next big thing on the inside of your fridge.