Tucked in a small space at the side of Chinese appliance and electronics manufacturer Haier’s enormous booth at CES, a nondescript yet cutting-edge wine cooler embodied the future of refrigeration technology. Unlike traditional refrigerators, which are cooled with hazardous fluids linked to global warming, the prototype refrigerator uses an experimental technology that depends on water-based coolant that won’t harm the atmosphere—and consumes substantially less electricity to boot.
The new technology, called magnetocaloric cooling and developed by Haier in conjunction with Germany’s BASF and Astronautics Corporation of America, promises to cut energy use by a third or more compared with current systems, said Markus Schwind, a BASF research scientist based in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Rather than a compressor, the technology uses a magnetocaloric heat pump that cools by using a magnetic field to remove heat from the coolant.
Because it does not rely on a compressor, magnetocaloric cooling technology also should also allow refrigerators to run more quietly once it is further refined, Schwind added.
Don’t expect to see magnetocaloric cooling-based refrigerators in stores for a while. The technology is still at least a year or two away from being ready for production, and even then likely to show up in specialty products like wine coolers before making its way to standard refrigerators, Schwind said.
BASF has produced a video about magnetocaloric technology, which is available on YouTube.