At one time giant blocks of ice were the best solution we could come up with for keeping food cold. That primitive approach was eventually replaced by electric refrigerators using compressors and chemical coolants. Now, almost 100 years later, GE thinks it's found a better way to cool a fridge using a water-based fluid and magnets.
It's a radical departure from the technology we've relied on for almost a century, but the transition could be worthwhile since GE believes the system could be as much as 20 per cent more energy-efficient than the appliance that's currently keeping your milk from spoiling. Which means an upgrade could help reduce your monthly power bill.
So how does it work? Instead of using a chemical refrigerant like Freon to draw heat away from the inside of the fridge, a magnetic field agitates particles in a water-based fluid -- presumably made of some highly patented mixture -- that causes it drop in temperature and in turn cool a refrigerator. The engineering and physics behind how it works is of course more complicated than that, but those are cards that company is understandably holding close to its chest.
Based on the progress of its research and prototyping, GE is confident that a fridge with a magnetic-based cooling system could be ready for retail soon in as little as five years, although it's too early to talk about what this innovation would add to a fridge's price tag. And that the technology could eventually make its way into other home appliances like eco-friendly air conditioners, helping to dramatically reduce the load on power grids during hot summer months. [G.E.]