Fridges given the cold shoulder
26 June 2006
It will bring a whole new meaning to the word fridge magnet, since fridges as we know them could soon be given the cold shoulder.
Research published in the Royal Society of Chemistry's journal 'Chemical Society Reviews' reports scientists at Iowa State University and the US Department of Energy are developing environmentally friendly 'magnetic' fridges.
Current refrigeration techniques involve gas compression to cool the air - and in the past have used ozone damaging CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), known to damage the ozone layer.
The new fridge would work by passing an electric current through magnetic material containing rare-earth metal Gadolinium.
The material gives out heat when put in a magnetic field (called the magnetocaloric effect or MCE) - a much more efficient way of cooling food or drink than current technology which uses compression and evaporation of coolants.
Fridges, can, at the moment, use up to 20 per cent of a home's electricity throughout the year.
And even though CFCs have been gradually replaced with other coolants like ammonia and propane, these cause their own problems of increased toxicity, flammability and energy consumption.
Gordon Miller, a leading scientist at Iowa, said that even tiny impurities in the Gadolinium could delay the development of magnetic fridges.
He said: "Commercially available rare earth elements contain impurity levels that are sufficiently high to impede the magnitude of the MCE."
Ekkes Brück, a physicist at the University of the Amsterdam, agreed, saying that commercial application of the technology would only be possible once Gadolinium purity had improved.
Rare earth compounds could be used in environmentally-friendly magnetic refrigerators, according to a leading US scientist.
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