Magnetic refrigeration: future applications
The magnetocaloric effect was discovered in 1881 and has been used in cryophysics since the 1930s, but thanks to recent developments in material science, this technology can now be used at room temperature. Several projects involving this technology are already underway. The Ecole d'Ingénieurs du Canton de Vaud has obtained the Swiss Technology Award for a room temperature magnetic fridge. Swiss authorities have hailed magnetocaloric technology as a "veritable revolution in refrigeration". Camfridge, a Cambridge University spin-out also shows similar enthusiasm. It is currently working on a prototype, due to come out in June 2006. According to Camfridge, benefits from switching to magnetic technology include saving up to 50% in energy consumption, eliminating refrigerant leakage and making recycling easy. The Managing Director of Camfridge, Dr Neil Wilson, said the company was already in contact with main system manufacturers and strategic refrigeration users to jointly develop pre-production prototypes for several market segments and added that the objective was to deliver a superior product at a competitive price. Dr Osmann Sari, an eminent specialist involved in the Swiss project, believes that domestic refrigerators could be available within 3 years, even if high costs will restrict development to a niche market, until success trickles down to a broader market. The same technology can be used to develop high-performance heat pumps.