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issue: October 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Feature: Refrigerators
Cool Energy


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Tim Somheil, editor

There’s more than one way to chill a box, and refrigerator makers are showing more technological flexibility as they strive to meet the often-conflicting needs of consumers and regulators.

Compact appliances are becoming more multifunctional and, like all other industry segments, more efficient. MicroFridge (www.microfridge.com) combines a microwave oven, refrigerator, charging station for handhelds, and a Safe Plug power management system to keep the appliance from drawing too much power. The unit is Energy Star rated and achieves the highest rating for energy efficiency: CEE Tier 3 status.

Recent years saw resurgent interest in refrigerants that were previously written off as impractical, such as CO2 and isobutane (R-600a). New engineering effort is going into old technologies, and these revived systems may soon find new applications. For the most part, however, innovation is still focused on improving efficiency using more common refrigeration system technologies in standard-sized cabinets.

Bottom freezer fridges have been a growing segment. GE Appliances quotes statistics from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) that show 1.67 million bottom freezer refrigerators were sold in 2008, making for almost five-fold growth in this subcategory since 2000. Dollar sales were US$2.46 billion in 2008, more than seven times higher than in 2000. Bottom freezer models accounted for 27% of the dollars spent on refrigerators in 2008.

Designers of appliances have developed configurations that make access easier, and consumers have been particularly drawn to French door models, with a 2-door refrigeration section up top and a freezer below. GE took the idea further with its Armoire styling, with two freezer drawers designed to make food organizing easier. A top-drawer freezer compartment is for everyday use and items that are accessed more often. A deeper bottom drawer stores larger items, and is big enough for a frozen turkey.

Tools for Entertainment

Refrigerators with built-in DVD players, internet access, and digital photo frames have come and, for the most part, gone. Refrigerators do offer the best existing hardware platform for bringing consumer electronics capabilities in the kitchen, but only if enough buyers can be persuaded that they might actually make use of it.

OEMs’ attentions are now on maximizing the core fridge/freezer capabilities—which incude maximizing their value to households that host big gatherings.

Samsung Electronics America Inc., has been increasing its refrigerator lineup in the United States and added the first refrigerator in the industry with two icemakers. When the second icemaker is turned on for a party or family get-together, ice production is 1.5 times as much as current models. An external filtered water and ice dispenser is located in the refrigerator and the second icemaker is in the freezer.

Samsung reduced the space taken up by the insulation to create more usable room inside the fridge, resulting in a design with 3 more cubic feet than many other French door fridges. At 28.5 cu ft, the RFG298 is designed for the largest storage capacity in a French door refrigerator with a standard footprint.

 

Whirlpool Corp.’s Amana brand is also targeting consumers that host large gatherings with its QuickTap Entertainment Refrigerator. The appliance has a beverage reservoir to hold and dispense up to 2.5 L of cold beverages, including mixed drinks. The reservoir is connected through the refrigerator door to a dispenser for easy beverage service.

Innovation on a Smaller Scale

One well-known cooling technique for small refrigerators is absorption cooling, which has a strong advantage in its quiet operation. Dometic Group (Solna, Sweden; www.dometic.com) has long been a global supplier of refrigerators using absorption cooling for hotel minibars (and for marine and RV use). These refrigerators use no refrigerant and have no compressor or other moving parts, giving them silent operation and a refrigeration system that’s virtually maintenance-free and wear-free. At Home Appliance @ IFA, last month’s appliance trade show in Berlin, Dometic’s German business unit launched an absorption refrigerator for homes.

“In the home, a silent second refrigerator is ideal when people do not want their peace disturbed, for example in workrooms and bedrooms,” said Steffen Gross of Dometic GmbH. The miniCool refrigerators were shown in special models such as the Music-Coolbox, allowing connection to an iPod and speakers.

Thermoelectric effect refrigeration technology is also known for operating quietly and has been used in small refrigerators for several decades, but hasn’t been capable of creating cooling temperatures low enough for everyday refrigeration. That may be changing now that Haier has launched small units with thermoelectric cooling technology that can reach temperatures as low as 37°F, enhancing the technology with special firmware, electronics, and a dual-fan system. Haier has said the technology will migrate to larger home refrigerators soon.

 

 

 

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