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Conference Session C12

Paper #142

Disclaimer—This paper partially fulfills a writing requirement for first year (freshman) engineering students at the
University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. This paper is a student, not a professional, paper. This paper is
based on publicly available information and may not provide complete analyses of all relevant data. If this paper is used for
any purpose other than these authors’ partial fulfillment of a writing requirement for first year (freshman) engineering
students at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, the user does so at his or her own risk.

THE MAGNETOCALORIC EFFECT AND ITS APPLICATION IN


SUSTAINABLE REFRIGERATION SYSTEMS
Trent Greener, tag67@pitt.edu, Mena 1:00pm, Sofia Leav, skl20@pitt.edu, Mahboobin 10:00am

ABSTRACT- This paper explores the use of the sustainable solutions is a challenge modern engineers are
magnetocaloric effect in the development of commercial faced with.
refrigeration in order to create more cost effective and One challenge that engineers currently face within the
energy efficient sustainable systems. It initially emphasizes realm of sustainability is refrigeration. Although it is an issue
the environmental problems with traditional refrigeration that goes unnoticed by most people, traditional refrigeration
systems, explaining that refrigeration accounts for 17% of systems are harmful to the environment. It is predicted that
global electrical consumption. Then, it explains how recent by the year 2030 refrigeration and air conditioning will
developments in magnetocaloric technologies provide a account for 13% of carbon gas emissions [2]. Carbon gasses
solution to these issues. After that, it provides a detailed look contribute to the greenhouse effect, which is a leading cause
into the technology itself, starting with an explanation of the of global warming. In short, traditional refrigeration is not
magnetocaloric effect, then discussing how this technology is sustainable and change is necessary. In addition to household
applied to create sustainable refrigeration, and finally a look refrigerators, refrigeration is used in food retail markets,
at the commercialization of magnetic refrigeration systems. refrigerated transport, medical storage, and numerous
These sections focus on both the technology and the steps industrial processes. For example, in chemical plants and
being taken by companies to make this product a reality. This refineries, refrigeration is vital for certain chemical storage
paper continues by identifying the economic and and processing [3]. So, while the world relies on traditional
environmental considerations that make magnetic refrigeration systems to keep things cold, they are doing so at
refrigeration a sustainable solution, specifically long term a cost.
energy savings and the elimination of harmful refrigerant As refrigeration becomes an urgent problem in
gases. It then discusses the ethics surrounding this consideration to global warming and carbon emissions,
technology, since it is new and still in development, using the engineers are looking to alternative methods of refrigeration
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers code of that show much more promise than traditional styles of
ethics to explain why the benefits of magnetic refrigeration cooling. One of these methods that is being currently
outweigh the risks. The paper concludes with a brief excerpt researched into is magnetocaloric refrigeration. As opposed
about what obstacles are to be overcome and how the to typical refrigerators that use harmful chemical refrigerant
technology looks towards the future. agents, magnetocaloric refrigeration utilizes the application
and removal of a magnetic field in order to change the
Key Words- Commercialization, Ecofriendly, Efficient, temperatures of specific materials with magnetocaloric
Magnetocaloric, Refrigerant-Free, Sustainable properties in order to achieve a desired cooling effect.
As seen in figure 1, traditional refrigeration systems rely
AN INTRODUCTION TO on refrigerant gasses to flow through the system. The warm
MAGNETOCALORIC TECHNOLOGY gas is compressed in the compressor which increases the
pressure, causing it flow up through the condenser coils. Here
Among the fields of engineering, sustainable development the gas is cooled by the relatively cool temperature of the
has become a large focus as climate change and carbon kitchen, causing it to liquefy. Now in liquid form at high
emissions both become more pressing issues. As modern pressure, the refrigerant flows through the evaporator coils,
technologies improve, so does the need for sustainability, absorbing the heat from the fridge/freezer, cooling it down.
which is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as The liquid then evaporates into a gas, travelling back to the
creating and maintaining the conditions under which humans compressor [4].
and the natural world can exist in productive harmony to
support present and future generations [1]. Creating

University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering 1


Submission Date 03.03. 2017
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Magnetocaloric materials can be divided into two groups


based on the order of this phase transition. A phase transition
occurs when ferromagnetic materials are heated to their
Curie temperature, and at temperatures above that point the
material becomes paramagnetic. The magnetocaloric effect is
most noticeable during this phase transition. Entropy change,
adiabatic temperature and specific heat are the three
characteristics that correspond to the strength of a
magnetocaloric material. The effect of these on different
order magnetocaloric materials can be seen in figure 2.
First-order phase transition magnetic materials have a
drastic entropy change only at a certain value of magnetic
field, while the entropy change of a second-order material
Figure 1 [4] increases with a larger magnetic field. Both types of phase
Basic Layout of a Traditional Refrigerator transitions increase their adiabatic temperature with an
The diagram shows the typical components and layout of a increasing magnetic field, however the peak is broader in
refrigerator and helps to add to our description of how it second-order materials. The specific heat of second-order
works in the text above. materials is sharply peaked in low magnetic fields without
any significant shift in peak temperature.
This process is a potential innovation in the refrigeration
field that could possibly provide a substantial improvement
over the many shortcomings of current refrigerators.
Through this research, it will become apparent that
magnetocaloric refrigeration proves to be an important
consideration to a problem that affects society.

THE INDUSTRIAL PROCESS


Technology Behind the Magnetocaloric Effect

The magnetocaloric effect is a thermodynamically


reversible process that converts magnetic energy to thermal
energy. The basic idea is that by applying an external
magnetic field to the existing magnetic refrigerants, energy is Figure 2 [7]
converted to thermal energy [5]. This concept is not new; 1st Order vs. 2nd Order Materials
scientists as early as 1917 observed the thermal properties The graphs show the difference between second and first
exhibited by a specific group of materials when exposed to a order magnetocaloric materials via magnetization (a and b)
magnetic field. They began to learn more about this and specific heat (c and d)
phenomenon, noticing that these materials, known as
ferromagnetic materials, lose their magnetic properties when However, as seen in figure 2, in first-order materials the
heated above a certain temperature, known as the Curie specific heat significantly changes peak temperature in larger
temperature. In 1917 the term “magnetocaloric” was coined, magnetic fields without changing the peak values
after two scientists discovered a reversible heating of a nickel
drastically. Other characteristics of materials such as the
sample when heated to near its Curie temperature. The temperature range and hysteresis are also linked to the phase
sample increased temperature by 0.7 K when a magnetic
transition order. Second-order phase transitions often occur
field was applied [3]. The materials that exhibit these unique over a wider temperature range, making them easier to utilize
properties are now called magnetocaloric materials. These in applications. Minimizing the hysteresis of a material
materials exhibit a heating effect when magnetized, and a during phase transition can help to increase efficiency of a
cooling effect when demagnetized due to the magnetic- regeneration cycle. Both the thermal and magnetic hysteresis
entropy change under the application of an external magnetic caused by heating/cooling and alternating magnetic fields
field [6]. Magnetocaloric materials are not rare, but some do respectively, contribute to a lower efficiency. This hysteresis
behave differently than others. The characterization of
is typically associated with first-order magnetic materials.
magnetocaloric materials is crucial for understanding
Magnetocaloric materials which undergo the magnetocaloric
potential applications. effect are not altered in any way except for the magnetic and
thermal properties. This reversibility shows potential for uses

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in the creation of sustainable engine-like cycles. The using the magnetocaloric material gadolinium [9]. The
phenomenon of magnetocaloric materials has been known for discovery of gadolinium (Gd) as a magnetocaloric material
over a century, and now recent research into the details of was a major breakthrough in the application of the
how they behave is allowing engineers to understand how to magnetocaloric effect in commercial magnetic refrigeration
maximize the effect for potential applications. systems. gadolinium is a second-order phase transition
magnetic material which has a near room temperature Curie
Utilizing the Design temperature of 293 K [3]. The discovery of this material has
allowed for developments into the application of the
An active magnetic regeneration (AMR) cycle is the key reversible, sustainable, process that is the magnetocaloric
link between the magnetocaloric effect and magnetic effect. The cycle he created also displayed that the
refrigeration. This cycle utilizes the reversibility of the temperature change created by the system can be much
magnetocaloric effect to create a temperature change in a greater than the maximum magnetocaloric effect [9]. So with
sustainable way. A basic AMR cycle can be seen in figure 3. Gd used as the magnetocaloric bed in the AMR cycle, the
sustainable process of magnetic refrigeration began to be
viewed as a potential solution to harmful traditional
refrigeration systems.
Gadolinium is not the only magnetocaloric material with
potential applications in magnetic refrigeration. Current
research shows that other alloys, or several layered
magnetocaloric materials could have the potential to be just
as, if not more efficient.

Commercialization and Consumer Product Development

Several companies including General Electric (GE) and


Cooltech are in the process of developing magnetic
refrigeration devices since the issues with traditional
refrigeration are becoming harder to overlook [10]. The
Figure 3 [8] benefits of potential applications of the magnetocaloric effect
Basic AMR Cycles in refrigeration are so substantial that the magnetic
This shows the layout of a basic AMR cycle. refrigeration market is expected to double every year,
reaching over 300 million by 2022 [11]. GE recently
The cycle is created by increasing and decreasing the announced plans to launch magnetic refrigerators for the
magnetic field, or changing the direction of temperature flow. general consumer by 2020, and Cooltech has already
The refrigerant in the cycle is a porous bed of the launched their unique Magnetic Refrigeration System for
magnetocaloric material and the regenerator for the heat commercial use.
transfer fluid. The cycle begins in a steady state condition Cooltech Applications is currently the world leader in
with the hot side at 24 degrees celsius and the cold side at 5 magnetic refrigeration technology. This French company has
degrees celsius. The bed is initially magnetized which causes been working to develop commercial magnetic refrigeration
the magnetocaloric refrigerant to heat up due to the systems and are farther along in their product development
magnetocaloric effect. Then the fluid flows across the heated than competitors. Their products use an advanced type of
bed, warming the fluid and cooling the bed due to Newton’s active magnetic regeneration cycle to create a temperature
law of cooling, and exits at a temperature close to the 24 gradient without the use of harmful refrigerant gases.
degree hot side. The magnetic field is then removed, cooling Cooltech understands that for a significant reduction of the
the bed by the magnetocaloric effect. The cycle is complete carbon emissions due to traditional refrigeration systems,
by having the 24 degree fluid flow from the hot to cold side magnetic refrigeration has to become a viable option in more
of the bed, being cooled by the cold bed and emerging at a than just the consumer market. The specific design of their
temperature around 5 degrees. This created a continuously system allows it to have a wide range of applications, making
cold side and a continuously hot side of the bed, allowing for it an ideal option for consumers and the commercial market.
applications of this temperature difference [7]. Their unique small-form technology has a flexible design
The first AMR applications were relatively inefficient, and can be adapted to be used in almost any type of
with large magnetic fields necessary for a 5 degree change in refrigeration, but was developed for mostly medical
temperature, and required operation at temperatures around 1 refrigeration, wine cellars, professional refrigeration and
K. It was not until 1997 when Gerald Brown, a contributor to plug-in displays. The Cooltech magnetic refrigeration system
the Journal of Applied Physics, created a continuously relies on the same fundamental concepts of the
operating AMR cycle that operated at room temperature

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magnetocaloric effect and strongly resembles the active magnetic refrigeration system and the resources they have to
magnetic regeneration [2]. offer, they are the most promising at this point in time.
The system uses gadolinium as the magnetocaloric
material and glycol water as a heat transfer fluid. A heat ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY
transfer fluid is necessary to facilitate heat transfer between
the cold and hot sources, and glycol water is an One of the main concerns and drawbacks about magnetic
environmentally friendly option [2]. The system itself uses refrigeration is that it is a very niche product. Since this
technology is so new, there is no streamlined manufacturing
process like there is for traditional refrigeration. Magnetic
refrigeration faces its biggest challenge through its initial
price point, leaving it inaccessible to a majority of
consumers. This means that “even though some products
have come to market, there are still challenges that need to
be addressed before there is large-scale deployment of the
technology. The main issue is the supply of magnetocaloric
materials, which are scarce. Reducing the material content,
or identifying new materials, would increase viability” [11].
Although the actual cost of electricity for magnetic
refrigeration may be less expensive than traditional methods,
there is still a barrier to be overcome because the initial cost
of magnetic refrigeration proves to be much higher.
The development of this technology resembles the way
that solar panels and general solar technology have
Figure 4 [2] advanced. In the past ten years, solar panels have become
Cooltech’s Design immensely cheaper and more readily available to the public.
This is the basic design of Cooltech’s rotary magnetic Solar panels were initially considered unattainable by the
refrigeration system. average consumer, but now they can be commonly integrated
into homes and everyday devices due to the further research
rotating magnets to magnetize/demagnetize magnetocaloric and standardized modes of manufacturing [12]. If magnetic
materials to create a temperature gradient. The rotary system refrigeration can be further researched and developed as a
is the only thing which requires power and the technology, then it poses a future model that incites growth
magnetocaloric effect is reversible and does not weaken over and lower production costs. This will make it more readily
time, so aside from the small amount of electric power available to a larger population and thus, extending its
required, the system is almost entirely sustainable. This effectiveness as a means of promoting of eco and cost
allows the Cooltech Magnetic Refrigeration system to create friendly technology by eliminating excess energy on a larger
a temperature span of 25 degrees celsius while only using 400 scale.
W of power while a tradition refrigerator uses up to 750 W
[2]. ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
Cooltech has successfully implemented their designs, and
are now focused on bringing their technology to commercial No Use of Refrigerant Gases
and consumer markets. The adaptability of their magnetic
refrigeration system allows for specific custom One of the main aspects for why magnetocaloric
developments. Since Cooltech is a company focused only on refrigerations appeals as an alternative to traditional methods
magnetic refrigeration, they have a team of several project of refrigeration is due to the lack of refrigerant gasses.
managers who are focused specifically on co-development Refrigerant gases are used in typical current refrigerators and
and integration products. If a company wants to work with although they are effective, they have many shortcomings
Cooltech to replace their traditional refrigeration with a that are apparent in their effects to the environment and
magnetic system, Cooltech has the resources to create a public safety. Although there has been improvement in the
specific development that will work with the company’s use of each respective refrigerant, each one has a negative
specific needs. Cooltech is able to work with the company all tradeoff. Halons, chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and
the way through the development of the product, including hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC), have the benefits of being
the design of a supply chain and mass production system for nonflammable and nontoxic, making them good choices as
the specific product needed [2]. Cooltech is not the only refrigerants, but their stability in the atmosphere and their
company developing magnetic refrigeration systems, but corresponding global warming potential and ozone depletion
because of their unique, small-scale, adaptable rotary potential raise concern about their usage. Although other

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types of refrigerants may be non-ozone depleting, many have technology is brought forward to the public. Upon further
global warming potentials that are thousands of times greater research into magnetic refrigeration and a cross-checking
than carbon dioxide. Some other refrigerants such as propane with the code of ethics of the Institute of Electrical and
and ammonia are not inert, and are flammable or toxic if Electronics Engineers, it is important that potential
released [2]. Regardless of the refrigerant chosen, each one consequences are considered in order to further improve upon
has its own consequence. Although refrigerants are currently an understanding of the technology [13].
an integral part of modern refrigeration, the removal of One concern among the public may be that the refrigerator
refrigerants as necessities would net in numerous positive may output strong magnetic fields that could cause harm to
effects, and this is one of the main reasons that the user or disrupt other appliances, but based upon
magnetocaloric refrigeration is being considered as an option Cooltech’s conduction of research, “measurements were
for a replacement. Magnetocaloric technology has no need performed on all MRS types and results showed magnetic
for any refrigerants, posing itself to be an improvement upon emissions that surrounded Cooltech’s devices (10cm) were
current methods of refrigeration and an example of a far lower than the ones from a little promotional fridge
technology that promotes eco-friendliness and public safety. magnet” [2]. Therefore, there is no glaring concern about
public safety that is associated with magnetocaloric
Reduced Energy Usage technology, and by abiding by the other fundamental ethical
codes that engineers hold themselves to, magnetocaloric
Beyond the absence of refrigerants, magnetocaloric technology proves that it can be further explored as a solution
refrigeration also proves to be a further possible innovation in in order to innovate in ways that would create beneficial
an ecofriendly sense because it results in lower energy results to both the general society and the environment.
dissipation levels than typical means of refrigeration. This is
because “magnetic cooling requires a low level of LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
maintenance (low rotational speed, low pressure, no leaks and
no hazardous chemicals…)” [2] which in turn lowers the Critical Issues
operational cost for the user. As a result of these lower power
requirements, the energy savings can be up to 50% in There are apparent issues in the construction and
comparison to current refrigerators, which is a drastic manufacturing of magnetocaloric parts due to the scarcity of
reduction in savings. Typical refrigerators have to be supplied the basic materials. One of the largest drawbacks in magnetic
with enough energy to run multiple mechanisms at high refrigeration being accessible to everyone is the reliance on
frequencies, such as evaporator fans, evaporator coils, gadolinium. Gadolinium is relatively rare, and the use of it as
compressors, compressor fans, and condenser coils. These the magnetocaloric material in most magnetic refrigeration
components require a larger sum of energy and have higher systems is a big reason why the starting price of magnetic
operational costs than magnetic systems. Basic AMR refrigeration systems is so high [3]. Without the high price of
systems, and cooltech’s design as seen in figure 4, rely on gadolinium, the return on investment for magnetic
fewer components. The cooltech system uses a few rotating refrigeration systems would be much lower [11]. Although
plates and rods of magnetocaloric materials. Due to the gadolinium was once seen as the optimal, and only, option for
simple design of magnetocaloric refrigerators, there is an applications of the magnetocaloric effect, recent studies have
elimination of excess energy usage, allowing the technology shown that there may be other materials that could work just
to be both an innovative design and one that lacks complex as well, or even better [3].
components. One proposed solution is through the layering of several
magnetocaloric materials. With a certain composition, the
ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS hysteresis of the phase-transition could be minimized beyond
that of gadolinium, allowing for a more efficient AMR cycle.
When referencing a potential engineering breakthrough, it The layering of several magnetocaloric materials, such as a
is very important to reference a code of ethics in order to gadolinium layered with manganese could provide a cheaper,
ensure that the technology being produced is beneficial to the and possibly more efficient application of the magnetocaloric
general public and results in a positive contribution to effect [3]. Also by changing the magnetocaloric material, the
society. In order to accomplish this, the ethical codes Curie temperature can be altered.
produced by the National Society of Professional Engineers
should be indexed and considered, as well as the code Future Developments
developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers because the manufacturing and distribution of There stands to be a promising future in the efficiency of
magnetocaloric technology is primarily within their area of these devices as there is being further research conducted
focus. When checking both lists of ethics, magnetocaloric about magnetocaloric materials. Magnetocaloric materials
refrigeration proves that it abides by the requirements put in have been studied since 1917, the effects the exhibit are well
place by engineers to ensure that suitable beneficial understood, but there are new ways to apply these concepts to

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We would like to acknowledge Ryan Gabrin, Matt
Lombardo, Brian Walsh, James Hennessy, Emily Luther,
Sean Kilcullen, Katelyn Benson, and Allie Vogt for helping
with the structure and sequence of our paper. Also, we would
like to acknowledge our advisor Michelle Banas for helping
us keep on track and focus in on our paper.