Scientists are a step closer to making environmentally-friendly 'magnetic' refrigerators and air conditioning systems a reality, thanks to new research published in the May issue of Advanced Materials.
Magnetic refrigeration technology could provide a 'green' alternative to traditional energy-guzzling gas-compression fridges and air conditioners. They 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.
Refrigeration and air conditioning units make a major contribution to the planet's energy consumption - in the USA in the summer months they account for approximately 50% of the country's energy use.
A magnetic refrigeration system works by applying a magnetic field to a magnetic material - some of the most promising being metallic alloys - causing it to heat up. This excess heat is removed from the system by water, cooling the material back down to its original temperature.
When the magnetic field is removed the material cools down even further, and it is this cooling property that researchers hope to harness for a wide variety of cooling applications. Researchers are still looking for improved materials that provide highly efficient cooling at normal room temperatures, so that the technology can be rolled out from the lab to people's homes and businesses.