Magnets to enable green refrigerators?

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Chicago (IL) – Researchers claim they have found a way to create new technology concepts for two of the most power hungry appliances in our homes – refrigerators and air conditioners. Future cooling devices could utilize water cooling and magnets.

If you have ever wondered why so few homes are self-sustaining in terms of power generation, some of your research may have revealed that there are extremely power hungry devices in our homes, which exceed the power capability of the solar panels you can fit on an average roof today. And researchers now claim they can cut the power consumption of cooling appliances such as the refrigerator or air conditioner. Refrigeration and air conditioning units make a major contribution to the planet's energy consumption: In the USA, they account for approximately 50% of the country's energy use during the summer months.

The new cooling concept is based on the idea that magnetic fields can heat certain materials up and down when you remove the field again. The technology, based on research funded in the UK by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), suggests that magnets would heat a material up, water cooling would remove the heat and the removal of the magnetic field would create a cooling process. The researchers claim that the technology would require 20-30% less energy to run than the best systems currently available, and would not rely on ozone-depleting chemicals or greenhouse gases.

 The key to enabling this technology is the discovery of new materials that deliver dramatic heating and cooling when a magnetic field is applied and removed, which can operate in normal everyday conditions, and which does not lose efficiency when the cooling cycle is repeated time after time. The research published shows that the pattern of crystals inside different alloys - otherwise known as their microstructure - has a direct effect on how well they could perform at the heart of a magnetic fridge.

The Imperial College London team behind the new findings says this could, in the future, help them to custom-design the best material for the job. Specifically, the scientists believe that finding a suitable material for everyday applications may lie in smaller detail: Understanding of the microstructure of these materials and how they respond to magnetic fields on a microscopic level will be critical, the scientists suggested.

That said, no such material that could be used in a magnetic fridge has been discovered.