Air conditioning, as we know it today, has been around for over 100 years, but people have been finding ways to modify their environment for much longer than that. Everything from aqueducts to architecture was used to try and bring relief to people battling the heat. The invention of economical air conditioning has allowed previously uninhabitable deserts and swamps to become thriving tourist attractions and aided in the progress of technology and medicine. The history of air conditioning is a story of innovation and technological advances, but even more exciting than air conditioning’s history is its future.
As the world’s population continues to expand, people are becoming more and more conscious about their energy use and their impact on the environment. The air conditioning industry has seen its share of innovation and a push toward greater efficiency and the following advancements might be the next big leap forward in HVAC efficiency and eco-friendliness.
One of the technologies that could lead a heating and cooling revolution would rely on magnets to keep our homes, fridges, and freezers at the perfect temperatures. Normally, when it comes to refrigeration and magnets, we think of letters on the outside of the fridge that our kids use to practice spelling. But with magnetic refrigeration and cooling, the alphabet magnets will only be the second most impressive magnets in the kitchen.
Researchers and scientists have known for almost 100 years that certain types of metals and materials heat up when they are introduced into magnetic fields. While the discovery was big news, the technology of the time didn’t allow a large enough transfer of heat to be relevant in the heating in cooling. In recent years, different alloys have been found to react much better when exposed to a magnetic field, opening the door to temperature control through magnets.
When certain metals and alloys are placed into a magnetic field they lose their ability to retain heat, causing their temperature to rise. Eventually, the temperature will drop back down to match the surrounding environment. When the alloy is removed from the magnetic field, it will cool below the ambient temperature. It’s estimated that this cooling technique could reduce energy consumption by cooling and refrigeration units by up to 30%.
This unique technological advancement has allowed the cooling process to become more efficient and made the dream of using magnets to cool our homes and run our refrigerators a reality. One day in the not-so-distant future, all of our home cooling and refrigeration could be handled by magnets!