I caught the refrigerator bug again. It happens every few months, I get a job, I quit a job, I change my musical taste, I read a few books; but then, it comes back with a fury. That damned refrigerator again. I’ve got it in my mind to build a better refrigerator. It takes my mind hostage so that I think of little else. Scribbled bits of paper are piled in the corner with dates going back some years. I remember ideas I’ve had, rediscover others in fits of Eureka and toy with still others yet to be solved.
There is something about refrigeration that fascinates me in a way nothing else ever has. A machine capable of using energy in order to move energy, to pump heat, seems to me to be a machine worth understanding and optimizing. But that’s me.
What happened to the refrigerator? There it sits in the kitchen humming away or the garage quietly bubbling and chugging along to keep the beer cold, the lettuce fresh and the ice cream frozen. But, how many people know how the hell that thing works; that staple of modern living? How many many people could adequately explain the basic functioning of a heat pump the importance of material phase change? I’d say not many, but I’m not complaining about education here; this is about the sorry state the modern refrigerator is in. Competition between capitalist refrigerator manufacturers have mass produced an energy hogging, difficult to recycle, adulterated and toxic beast. The same has happened to almost every other technology or service the capitalism’s destructive ‘invisible hand’ touched. If one company manufactures a quality product and another an almost identical unit yet with only slightly cheaper components; it’s not difficult to predict the outcome after several years of this process.
A short list of design issues with the modern household refrigerator:
Full of toxic plastic, insufficient insulation, energy wasting door construction, poor compressor and condenser placement, almost no thermal mass, highly toxic and expensive refrigerant gas, uneconomic to service generally. Basically, they’re cheap boxes of toxins designed to be discarded and replaced!
There were at one time a beautiful diversity of household refrigerator designs and technologies. This ‘cryodiversity’ I’ll call it, made for some incredibly interesting household heat pumps with a great deal of consideration put into using quality materials and ensuring these machines were serviceable. Today though, pick out 100 different refrigerator manufacturers (if there are that many), or 100 different refrigerator models and describe the most notable differences. Few are worthy of note. Water dispensers and side by side doors do not count. The components of these systems and the research and development that produced them have long since been paid for many times over. These components have finite life spans. This economic system cannot produce quality, long lasting products with consideration for energy use, reusability/recyclability, serviceability or appropriateness for there environment.
For these reasons and others, I feel that the state of refrigeration technology and the inaccessibility the common person has to understanding, repairing, improving or building appropriate heat pumping machines will leave those living in a fossil fuel dependent society yet more vulnerable in a peak oil world. This is why I seek to build a better refrigerator. One that serves it’s purpose well and is sourced, built and powered independent of unsustainable practices that jeopardize the future of life on Earth.
-M. C. Pletcher