Einstein’s Fridge

Albert Einstein: atomic physicist, scientific genius, refrigerator maker? Back in the 1920s, he and his pupil Leo Szilard saw a need for a refrigerator (which is, if you think about it, one of our most spectacularly useful inventions) that didn’t use electricity or moving parts. Instead, it just uses heat to move gases, which cools a chamber. If Discover is on the money, their bright idea may be ready to come to market:

Einstein and Szilard were reportedly spurred to inventive action by a news report of a Berlin family that died when toxic gas leaked from their refrigerator; the two physicists decided to create a system without moving parts to reduce the likelihood of accidents.

Their invention uses ammonia, butane, and water, and lowers the air pressure within the mechanism to make the butane boil at a lower temperature. At one side is the evaporator, a flask that contains butane. “If you introduce a new vapor above the butane, the liquid boiling temperature decreases and, as it boils off, it takes energy from the surroundings to do so,” says [engineer Malcolm] McCulloch. “That’s what makes it cold” [Clean Technica]. The mix of gaseous butane and ammonia then pass though a water-filled condenser, where the ammonia dissolves into the water and the butane is freed, and soon the gases are ready to begin the cycle again. The fridge just requires a heat source to heat the liquid, and McCulloch is experimenting with using solar energy for that step.

In September, McCulloch said we should wait about a month for a prototype that was four times as efficient as the original Einstein/Szilard model.

Hmmmm. Maybe he’s been distracted by those hydrogen cars.