Every year your fridge alone uses as much power as the average African. Which is to say, it’s a major contributor to your annual electricity bill, and a significant factor contributing to the U.S.’s energy demand.
The reason: Most American fridges are large, and all of them use old technology based around a compressor and a chemical refrigerant. Not much has changed since GE introduced the first electric fridge in 1927. The compressor pushes out heat into the kitchen to make it cooler inside for your food.
Scientists have known since the 1880s that certain metals heat up in the presence of magnets and cool down as they move away. The problem has been harnessing what’s called the “magnetocaloric” effect to drive temperatures down to low enough levels. It’s only in the last five years, by using new materials and configurations, that GE has begun to reach temperatures useful for refrigeration.
The GE team has built a prototype the size of a shopping cart, and shown it to staff at the Department of Energy, the White House, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It hopes to have a product on the market in the next decade.