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Published on March 1st, 2015 | by Tina Casey


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

March 1st, 2015 by  

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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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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