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Commercial & domestic magnetic refrigeration launches imminent

Two firms have announced plans for commercial launches of products based on magnetic refrigeration.

French firm Cooltech said it will launch a magnetic ‘compressor replacement unit’ for use in a retail integrated cold counter as soon as this year. Meanwhile Cambridge based Camfridge said it is in advanced field trials with Whirlpool for the production launch of a domestic refrigerator inside two years. 

Magnetic techniques offer the benefit of doing away with the traditional compressor, while offering energy advantages through increased efficiency over conventional vapour compression, particularly at lower power.

The rapid acceleration of commercial production for Cooltech has occured thanks to financial backing from a series of partners including e20m in startup loans from the French government’s technology fund.

The 500 W cold counter will feature Cooltech’s magnetic unit, which is said to be 50 per cent more efficient than a conventional compressor.

The unit uses an active magnetic regenerator, comprising magneto-caloric materials exposed to an intermittent magnetic field. In place of refrigerant it uses water plus an inhibitor.

Cooltech research and development director Tim Lorkin told a meeting of the IOR’s Sirac technology group that the developments marked the start of a move towards the mainstream for the technology.

He said: “Magnetic refrigeration can cover 80 per cent of the vapour compressor market today – it is not niche.”

Camfridge business development director Allesandro Pastore said the efficiency of the system is twice that of a conventional domestic fridge running on isobutane.

He said: “Magnetic solutions are more efficient at lower cooling powers than vapour compressors, and you can redesign the refrigerator – why have a big box if you don’t need a big compressor?”

He said the near-term goal was to provide A+++ energy consumption in a less expensive A+ cabinet, as it would not require expensive vacuum panels to reach the standard. He added: “Magnetic techniques are the key to reaching A++++ too.”

Camfridge is working with Whirlpool and other manufacturing partners such as Indesit, Arcelik and Hotpoint.

One of the key aspects to the development of Whirlpool’s domestic fridge is the use of an iron-based alloy to provide the magnetic charge. The alloy brings the price of the technology down considerably over the rare-earth magnets such as gadolinium used initially by the technology’s pioneers.

Mr Pastore said the potential was sizeable, with the EU expected to build 16 million domestic fridges in 2015 and A+++ accounting for 10 per cent of that.

Both developers are looking at other applications. Cooltech is working on the use of magnetic refrigeration in transportation, while Camfridge is considering beverage coolers and vending machines.

Mr Pastore said: “Magnetic cooling technology is now well understood and the supply chain of refrigerant materials established.”

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