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Green Building News

Researchers at Work on New Refrigerator

Using a new compressor design, they hope to reduce energy consumption by about 40 percent to less than 1 kilowatt hour per day

Today's refrigerators use far less energy on average than models produced during the 1970s, and would become even more efficient with the adoption of new compressor technology, researchers said.
Image Credit: Frigidaire

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Whirlpool are at work on a more efficient refrigerator that could reduce average energy use by as much as 40 percent, a report published at R&D said.

The lab said that researchers are banking on an oil-free “Wisemotion” linear compressor manufactured by Embraco along with other technologies and materials to bring down energy consumption to less than 1 kilowatt hour per day.

By comparison, refrigerators manufactured during the 1970s used between 4 and 5 kWh per day, and today’s models average about 1.5 kWh per day.

With electricity at an average cost of about 12.5 cents per kWh in the U.S., that would save a family about $26 a year, not a huge sum. But collectively, the energy savings are very large.

“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,” Ed Vineyard, director of ORNL’s Building Technologies Research & Integration Center, said.

The linear compressor is said to reduce energy losses by matching the compressor pumping rate to the cooling load. LG, an appliance manufacturer, already advertises an energy-saving refrigerator with a linear compressor. But the ongoing research and development announced by the lab also covers “associated components,” which weren’t specified, the report said.

There was no timetable on when the research would produce a market-ready appliance.


  1. vensonata | | #1

    energy calculation for refrigerators
    It seems in an all electric house the heat produced by the fridge in the heating season zeroes its energy demand. So if 1 kwh per day, cut that figure by about 40% as simply reducing your electric heat production. It is the 7 months of the non-heating season that we need to use the excess heat from the fridge. I imagine it has occurred to others (who think about such things) that the heat could be transferred to the domestic hot water tank by pre-heating incoming 50 degree cold water before it enters the domestic hot water system. It is only 1 kwh/day but it could be as much as 20% reduction in hot water energy.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Ven Sonata
    Every few months, we get a new comment on GBA discussing the need for a combination refrigerator/water heater. Here are links to two threads where the concept is discussed:

    Heat pump water heater + AC + refrigerator combo, someone?

    Using heat from Fridge to heat water

    If the follow the links shared in those two discussions, you'll find other GBA pages where the concept is discussed. Here's the short version: the idea isn't very practical.

  3. Alex House | | #3

    Cold water running into the
    Cold water running into the HWT is an intermittent event while a fridge rejecting heat is closer to a continuous event, so the amount of heat transferred to an incoming amount of water would be fairly small because it could only extract, at whatever efficiency, the heat that was being emitted right at that moment.

    There needs to be a small tank near the fridge which water cools the coil and captures the heat, that when the water reaches a particular temperature point, a valve opens and sends all the water to the main tank, which can never be at capacity while the preheat tanks is also at capacity.

    The engineering of the temperature sensors and the control logic is the technical hurdle for the DIY. The physics and economics of having a small tank and a small pump to recirculate the water might make this an uneconomic choice or a net energy loser. Then of course, any monkeying around with the integration with the fridge might void warranties.

  4. vensonata | | #4

    When you start drilling holes in the handle of your toothbrush
    Yes, it seems that transferring heat from the fridge to hot water is where the sane gentleman draws the line. I remember a sentence from Colin Fletcher's book about lightweight backpacking: "when you start drilling holes in the handle of your toothbrush to lighten it've gone too far!"

  5. Alex House | | #5

    Drawing the line.
    Not necessarily crazy. There are different factions of people standing under the green building umbrella. There are the environmental nuts, the madhatter inventors-tinkers, the show-offs and braggarts, and the hermits and back to earth folks, so for someone who is tinkering and striving to make his house operate as a system, the inefficiency of wasting heat in one part while using energy to create heat in another part of the house would gnaw at them. Guys like this might tinker together a system in order to ease their mind even though such a system would not be commercially viable for the average Joe Homeowner.

  6. AlanB4 | | #6

    I hope this does not get locked up in a patent
    Because energy saving technologies should be shared by all

  7. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    Response to Alan B
    At least two refrigerator manufacturers, LG and Kenmore, currently offer refrigerators with linear compressors:

  8. user-984364 | | #8

    Not an even heating tradeoff
    Ven Sonata mentions that fridge energy savings in an all-electric house are zeroed out in winter; I disagree. If you save 1 BTU on input to the fridge, sure, you're losing 1BTU of heating for the house. But you could use that new-found 1BTU of electricity to transfer 2-3 BTUs of heat into the home with a heat pump, yes? By the time you're thinking about heat gain from a fridge, you should also think about the most efficient way to use everything in your energy budget, IMHO.

  9. vensonata | | #9

    solar displacement of refrigerator energy
    Might be an idea for energy star not only to list Kwh/year on all appliances but a solar panel rating to zero the energy of the appliance. The rating is rather approximate as would be the Pv needed. In most U.S. location to displace the 200 kwh per year in the non heating season required by this fridge, a 175 watt panel would be plenty.(remember the panel produces year round). $600 installed and zero refrigerator bill for more than the life of the appliance. The next calculation is: are super efficient fridges more cost effective than a Pv panel and a modestly efficient fridge? Economics to play with!

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