Revolutionary New “Science Fridge” Coming Soon To A Kitchen Near You

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Getting a handle on energy-gobbling household appliances is a key part of the US Energy Department’s carbon management toolkit. In the latest development, a new energy-efficient refrigerator — make that hyper-super-duper-efficient — is now in the works, thanks to a partnership between Oak Ridge National Laboratory and global appliance innovator Whirlpool Corporation.

The last time the Energy Department put household gizmos in its crosshairs, it was to implement a Bush-era regulation that ditched conventional light bulbs in favor of more efficient technology. That caused quite an uproar among the usual suspects, but we’re guessing that this new energy-efficient refrigerator thing will cause barely a ripple. Or, won’t it?

energy efficient refrigerator

The New Energy Efficient Refrigerator

CleanTechnica wouldn’t cover a new refrigerator unless it was a very special new refrigerator (or unless it was full of beer), and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint.

It’s going to be co-designed by the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee, so all of us taxpayers can go give ourselves a pat on the back.

The award-winning lab has some serious brainpower working away within its walls, to the tune of thousands of engineers and scientists on staff, visiting, or using the facility, all helped along with an annual budget of $1.4 billion.

ORNL’s roots go back to the 1943 Manhattan Project and, more lately, it’s been known for clean energy and sustainability R&D including next-generation energy storage, solar cells based on spinach, and electric vehicle batteries.

Our expectations are high and so are ORNL’s. According to the lab’s press materials, the goal is to design an energy-efficient refrigerator that uses less than 1 kilowatt-hour daily.

This is definitely not your father’s refrigerator, because depending on how old your father is, in the 1970s, his refrigerator would have used something in the range of 4 to 5 kilowatt-hours daily.

Today’s models range around 1.5 kilowatt-hours, so getting that down below 1 kilowatt-hour is a huge improvement. Here’s how the numbers stack up, according to ORNL’s director of Building Technologies Research & Integration Center:

If every refrigerator in the U.S. were replaced with the advanced refrigerator design, the projected primary energy savings would be 0.56 quads per year—the equivalent of 100 million barrels of oil.

The Magic Of The Linear Compressor

If you think this is one of those things that will take forever to get out of the lab and into your kitchen, guess again. The folks at ORNL and Whirlpool already have an idea how this is all this is going to come about, and the key is a little device called Wisemotion.

Wisemotion is a new type of linear compressor (a compressor is the part that makes your fridge frigid), launched by global compressor whiz Embraco just last April.

According to Embraco, without any other enhancements, Wisemotion gets you about 20% in energy savings. To gild the sustainability lily, the new compressor uses about half the raw materials of a conventional compressor, mainly by virtue of its compact size.

The real magic is in the use of a refrigerant gas that also lubricates the compressor, eliminating the need for oil.

If you want to see a nifty video of Wisemotion in motion, check this out:

Did we mention that, aside from being small, this new compressor is really, really quiet? We’re thinking this could spark a revolution in the Tiny House movement because one thing they don’t mention when they talk about tiny houses (or tiny apartments, for that matter), is how you’re going to get a good night’s sleep when you’re sleeping practically right on top of a bubbling, humming, refrigerator.

Also, because the new compressor is so small, you can park it just about anywhere in the fridge, and this should have refrigerator designers all over the world practically salivating over the prospect of designing a refrigerator that is not shaped like a… well, like a refrigerator.

No word quite yet on all the other energy-efficient enhancements will arise from the ORNL-Whirlpool collaboration, but speaking of tiny houses, Whirlpool is the brains behind a mini-kitchen centered around a thermoelectric refrigerator, and if you’re thinking that probably belongs on the Space Station…

Whirlpool mini kitchen

… you’re right. Whirlpool is happy to note that the mini-kitchen in the photo above is the result of a 1960s-era contract with the federal government, so time for another group hug, you taxpayers. It was used in the Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab space programs.

Also in case you missed it, in January, Whirlpool announced that it’s buying into an $18 million wind energy project that will offset about 22% of the energy used at its plant in Findlay, Ohio.

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Photo Credits: refrigerator screenshot, courtesy of Embraco via YouTube; Space Station mini-kitchen courtesy of Whirlpool Corporation.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3146 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

37 thoughts on “Revolutionary New “Science Fridge” Coming Soon To A Kitchen Near You

    • Embraer? Odebrecht? Fibria? Gerdau? Taurus?

      Brazil has few major manufacturers relative to its size and the quality of its engineers, but it does have more than just one 🙂

      • “Multinational” is not a term of art but I suggest it implies significant productive operations, not just sales, in more than one country. Lockheed is an international American company not a multinational like Airbus. Apple and Embraer are international, Google and Embraco multinational. YMMV.

        Brazil’s economic policy has consistently been of the protectionist, import-substitution sort, not the export-based East Asian sort. It’s very difficult to break out into world markets when all your domestic suppliers are overweight and flabby behind high tariffs and buy-national requirements. Hats off to Embraco.

        • Gerdau has steel mills across the Americas as well as in India, Spain and others. Embraer produces corporate jets in Florida, components in Portugal and regional jets in Harbin. Odebrecht sells project management and consultancy services around the world.

          Fibria and Taurus don’t meet your definition, I’ll give you that.

          But you’re right of course, Brazil has a long history of import substitution – as does virtually the whole of Latin America. That has produced a few success stories (Embraer, for example) and a lot of inefficient failures.

  • Small nitpick: you say that ‘a compressor is the part that makes your fridge frigid’.

    That’s not true, or at least hugely simplified. A compressor is the main part of a cooling cycle (the simplest of which is shown here:, but it’s going to cool anything by itself.

    Slightly bigger nitpick: Whirlpool really isn’t all that revolutionary. LG has been selling fridges with linear compressors since 2001, as have some other manufacturers. Perhaps the WiseMotion offers an incremental improvement over traditional linear compressors, but ‘revolutionary’ seems to strong a word to use for this.

    Still, research into better compressors is a hugely important topic, so kudos on reporting on it. Not just for your domestic fridge by the way: they’re essential to anything from gas pipelines to AC units.

    • use for fridge, airco and heatpump. all electric.
      house heating with heatpump, using Solar rooftop electricity.

      • Out of interest: did you get a ground source or air source heat pump? Do you heat your hot water with it too? And if I may ask, how much did it cost you?

        My parents are looking into buying one for their house, so I’m asking around a bit 🙂

        • Larmion, this is an interesting topic. Heat pumps. Air source cold climate hit Cop of 3 and can cost as little as $3500 installed. Ground source can hit Cop4 and will generally cost $25,000at least. No brainer. By the way, Cop 3 =66% savings. Cop 4 =75% savings. As you can see Cop is deceptive as a concept.
          Now here is the big math news. Estimate the cost savings of a heat pump at say $3500 saving 1700 kwh year on heat bill. Now pay $3500 for Pv installed. In the U.S. at $3.50 /watt that Pv will produce 1700 kwh per year. In Germany at $2 watt 2200 kwh year (approx) So since Pv has twice the lifespan of the heat pump (15 years.) Pv is twice as good an investment…if, and only if you have a suitable roof. If not, Airsource heat pump is 4 times as economical as ground source and a good investment especially if grid electricity is over 15 cents Kwh…8year payback. 7 years of free heat.

          • Let me see if I understand what you are saying.

            Ground source heat pumps. $25k or higher.
            A 75% savings on electricity compared to what?

            Air source heat pump. $3.5k. A 66% savings on electricity compared to what?

            Obviously the savings from an air source would more than pay for the extra electricity needed if some of the savings was used for panels.

            Here’s another way to look at it. A solar-free look.

            Invest the extra $21,500 difference in an index fund. Take out 4% per year. Four percent is a very safe amount of capital to spend per year. Your investment should stay well ahead of inflation.

            4% the first year would be $860. Used to purchase electricity at $0.12/kWh that would pay for 7,167 kWh.

            In fact, an investment of $5,100 should pay for your electricity. (Solar would be cheaper as long as you have access to net metering.)

          • hello Bob
            I always like your comments but this hammer really misses the nail. Invest in Solar and heatpump get clean and make money with rooftop energy and garden air heat. natgas free.
            I live in earthquake area due to natgas exploitation, 50 billion cubic meters a year in the Netherlands.
            epicentre last week, village Kropswolde , where I live,
            damage houses and savety concerns.
            I use no natgas and pay no energy bill.

          • Perhaps you miss the point. If my numbers are close to correct then it no longer makes financial sense to install ground source heat pumps.

            Installing panels is a separate issue. And do remember, panels on your roof are not going to run your heat pump in the middle of the night. You may be electricity net zero (or better) but much of your electricity is coming from sources other than your panels.

        • Air to water EVI heat pump 15 KW. find prices on the internet. Alibaba, Schluck Hiseer
          isolated waterstorage 300 liter.
          always warm water, no limit
          COP 4, means 1 kwh electricity is 4 kwh heat. Rooftop Solar 4000 kwh, 20 panels. natgas cut off, all electric. with new 5 star washing drying freezing.
          all Bosch 5 star. and led lamps
          plug and play and no more energy bill, was 200+ a month
          makes me 2500 euros a year.
          works perfectly, also in freezing times. location the Netherlands. works for three years now. Solar was 6000 Euros and heatpump with installation was 6000 euros.
          and no CO2. Super.

  • My propane Servel fridge was silent! Crosley icy ball comes to mind? Einstein cycles fridges? Solid state 12 volt Koolatron had only a small fan and did work! Still seeking a “fridge” that would take the heat differentials from Solar, outdoor room temp and geothermal and produce refrigeration? Solar Cells and a heating coil in mu “Servel” propane fridge? Fridges with super insulation shells? Realistic sized fridges in this post “American 20th Century Golden Age” era? Freezers to preserve seasonal meats, fish? Solar cell/lithium battery range low voltage D.C. fridges? 400hz, high voltage motors for cheaper smaller builds and huge Pf corrections?(see aircraft systems?) Love this article! Please! more! Enjoy this forum into the future.

    • “Still seeking a “fridge” that would take the heat differentials from Solar”

      That’s called an absorbtion cooler, a type that is once again becoming popular for large scale cooling installations. For a domestic fridge, a traditional cooling cycle is more appropriate though.

      A solid state cooler (Peltier cooler) is much less efficient than a vapor compression cycle. Its high reliability is valuable in some industrial or lab applications, but it’s overkill for keeping your beer cool.

      Low voltage DC fridges exist (usually for off-grid applications in developing countries), but they’re not significantly more efficient than ‘normal’ ones. Similary, the efficiency gain from better PF correction in appliances is marginal in a modern grid that already has PF at a substation level (i.e. everywhere in the west).

      400Hz power can’t be transmitted over medium or long distances, so it’s worthless for an electrical grid. It also doesn’t measurably increase effiency, it just makes the transformator/motor smaller – and it’s not as if those are too large at the moment. You could make it work off-grid, but then again that’s less efficient than actually being on the grid (as trade mitigates the need for a lot of storage).

      Only the ‘super-insulated’ fridge is a good idea, but those are already on the mass market. Same for ‘realistically sized’ fridges (even though people continue to buy a bigger fridge than they need, as they tend to do with cars and other things as well).

  • I have a book about jonesey, is that you? love the book and have it for 40 years now, and my Bosch 5 star fridge uses 139 kwh a year. freezing cooling.
    3 years old now.

    • Right, I thought I had read about a fridge (made in Europe) that ran on ~400Wh/day. I think it is about 19 cu ft?

      I have a 23 year old frig that runs on ~1.6kWh/day, and it is 27 cu ft. And folks on EcoRenovator converted a deep chest freezer to a frig and it runs on <150Wh/day, if I recall correctly. Putting the heat into the water heater tank, making use of it; would be more efficient.

      <1kW is nice, but to be superduper it needs to be <300Wh/day.

  • How soon will these more efficient refrigerators be on the market?

  • Sounds good as far as the fridge goes, but on a related note, what’s with the reference to the tiny house “movement”?

    I’m fed up with all the tiny house nonsense. Not everyone gets off on wearing a hair shirt. It’s sanctimonious, preachy, impractical for most people and it makes green living come across as crazy and completely outside the mainstream.

    Tiny houses work for a small number of upper-middle-class singles and childless couples in a few areas of a few countries. They are a distraction from important issues around housing availability and energy consumption.

    • Yes, there is not much difference between a tiny house and a winterized RV. I never could understand the excitement.
      On the other hand, a small house of 700 to 1200 sq. ft. can be super efficient and fill the needs of any family quite comfortably.I don’t see any need for the 2000+ sq. ft. houses which are the norm today. The express an attitude like the SUV and large pickups. (Look at me, I don,t give a damn about the environment or diminishing resources.) There has to be better ways to spend excess income.

    • “Tiny houses work for a small number of upper-middle-class singles and childless couples in a few areas of a few countries.”

      You are no doubt aware that:

      a) The world is rapidly urbanizing
      b) Singles and childless couples greatly outnumber non-childless couples
      c) Housing is a major cause of poverty among poor and lower middle class people to

      In other words, tiny houses work for a clear majority of the global population at least at some point during their life.

      We have all lived in tiny houses at some point in our lives. University dorms, bachelor pads, sheltered living accomodation for the elderly and so on are all forms of tiny houses avant la lettre. Are those nonsensical? No. I’ve found them to be extremely comfortable and pleasant, provided they are well built (which they’re often not due to cost cutting).

      Of course tiny houses aren’t a replacement for normal sized living quarters. But they are an invaluable addition to the global housing stock: they offer affordable, high quality accomodation to those who want to live in crowded urban areas for various reasons (from environmental motives to more practical considerations like living close to work or leisure).

      Saying tiny houses are sanctimonious nonsense because they’re not suitable for everyone is like saying a compact car is nonsense because it can’t haul a huge load of timber.

      • I advise you to see the “Tiny House” documentary — it was on netflix but I don’t see it in the list of docs anymore, youtube probably has it for sure!

  • High efficiency is not a bad thing but is often not as world shaking as it may seem. The efficiency of my fridge, freezer, lighting, cooking appliances,etc. means almost nothing for most of the year, where I live.

    The heat is not wasted, but is simply added to the home and reduces the need for other heat sources.

    We should be thinking about whole house systems where such things as heat from refrigerators, air conditioners, etc. can be used by water heaters, clothes dryers, etc. Put your minds to it people.

    • And what happens if it’s hot outside? Then you need even more electricity for your AC to cool the house down.
      Efficiency is very very important. It can help save electricity without needing to change your lifestyle.

      • I was just pointing out that there are situations where that efficiency does not exist. In my area we might get about two weeks of hot weather (some years). I have not used a air conditioner for years. The same thing that keeps my home cheap to heat keeps it cool in summer. My lifestyle has not changed but I have been building much more efficient housing for myself.
        The population may not be there, but a large proportion of the earths landmass is in this cool zone.

    • Waste heat from appliances is in effect direct electric heating, the most expensive and polluting form of heating (unless you live somewhere like Norway or Quebec where almost all electricity is already renewable).

      And if you live in a house with AC, anything you gain in winter is more than lost in summer due to higher AC load.

      • Actually, direct electric heat is 100% efficient. There are several factors including delivery charges that can make it cheaper. In my case we have cheap natural gas so it is only in specific cases where it is economical, but it is not unreasonably expensive. My son has a 1000 sq. ft. house heated with a hot water system fueled only by electricity. He saves about 500 per year by not being connected to gas. More than enough to compensate for higher electricity costs.
        I am connected to both but compensate for higher electricity costs by using NG for as many things as possible.
        Read my above comment.

        • No, its efficiency over the entire cycle is well below 50%.

          The heating element has an efficiency of 100%, but it uses electricity that is most likely generated in a thermal power station. The best of those get efficiencies in the high forties for natural gas and just under 40% for coal, and the huge stock of older plants still in operation is far below that.

          Combine this with transmission losses, often estimated at 10% in the US, and you can see how poor the efficiency is compared to heating using natural gas, solar thermal or a heat pump.

          Costs are another issue entirely. Taxation, distribution charges, subsidies and so on can distort the figures in favor of electric heating in some rare cases. However, when you look exclusively at the cost of energy, electric heating is always the most expensive option.

          The reason is simple: burning NG for heating has an efficiency of over 90% if a condensing unit is used. Burning NG for electricity and then using an electric heater has an efficiency under half that.

          Either way, good for your son. But as I’m sure you’ll be first to admit, he is not representative for the average householder in the US or the world.

          • Be fair, full cycle for NG is not over 90%. If you compare them on the same basis there is likely a lot less difference.
            But we were discussing cost which is usually the best measure of efficiency.
            My point was that nothing is static and situations vary widely. I have seen NG at 12 dollars a gigajoule (it currently runs me between 3 and 4 dollars). I have seen electricity at 12 cents a kilowatt (currently my costs are between 6 and 8 cents.)
            No I don’t believe my son is in the same situation as most of the world, but then much of the world’s population does not have access to either reasonably priced NG or electricity.
            The U.S. and Canada are certainly not representative.
            A gigajoule is equal to about 278 KWH, so under current prices NG is far cheaper in any normal circumstances, but there are exceptions.
            BTW, I have been using condensing furnaces and tankless water heaters for a number of years. They are great. Not just for efficiency but also for safety and the elimination of chimney’s.

  • what would be really cool is the lights could dim down a soft orange / yellow at night, so when you get thirsty you are comforted by a soft incandescent glow, instead of bright LED lights.

    • Newer LED lights produce a warmer light very close to incandescent. In some cases I mix them with fluorescents so I can use my CFL’s until their end of life.

  • Brrr Oakridge does nuclear projects (many of them illegal like bunker busting nuclear bombs and mininukes). Sounds a bit spooky to me. I know I am just speculating but I am not about to put anything radioactive or anything designed by Oakridge anywhere near my house.

  • This is good news, and hopefully it will bear good market fruit, but one thing I wish that governments would push some investment dollars towards is to low cost manufacturing of super insulators like aerogel.

    I know insulation isn’t a sexy technological front, but aerogel has an insulative value of up to R-100/inch. I presume that the reason that every refrigerator on the market isn’t insulated with aerogel is cost, even though the actual volume required for a fridge is quite low. It is an extremely expensive material at present, but it’s application potential in manufacturing and construction is enormous — if only it were affordable.

    I’d love to see the U.S. D.O.E. establish grants to aerogel manufacturers with the goal of establishing specific cost and production targets; $0.50 per board foot aerogel at R-25/inch for example.

  • It appears that there is some sort of spring in the unit. Springs do wear out and break. When I worked for GM they tested their springs compressing them and expanding them until failure. Of course if the parameters are worked out sufficiently with the metallurgy and the percent of compression, then springs can last a long time. I just wonder if, since it is so new, they’ve worked out the MTBF.

    • It’s not so new. Lineair compressors have been in use in various applications for years, including in fridges since at least 2001 when LG offered fridges with a linear compressor. I can’t find anything on Google about those having an unusually high failure rate. Hardly convincing proof of course, but it’s at least an encouraging sign.

  • Half a quad is about half a percent of our annual energy budget. Anybody know what’s happened with the acoustic refrigerator bruited about a few years ago?

    • Nothing new happened. It’s not significantly more efficient than existing technology (its theoretical efficiency, which is equal to that of the Brayton cycle, is lower than the real-world efficiency of the best Stirling-cycle refrigerators), so there’s no compelling reason to commercialise them.

      AFAIK, they’re still under active research for cryogenics, but not for your average household fridge.

  • When will these be available,,,,I have a new Frigidaire refrigerator,uses about 408 kWh per year,,,,I run it on my small solor set up.

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