A warming world is going to need a lot of cold drinks. Problem is, today’s refrigeration tech is anything but climate friendly.
The way we cool our food and drinks has barely changed in a century and the technology is still reliant on environmentally harmful refrigerants. Now, a German startup thinks it can freeze those refrigerants out of the market using little more than magnets and water while consuming up to 40% less energy.
Magnotherm has been refining its technology, known as magnetocaloric refrigeration, since it was spun out of TU Darmstadt in 2019. Though it’s only a seed-stage company, the startup has already shipped five display coolers to beverage giant Coca-Cola, TechCrunch+ has learned, and it’s on track to build another 55 that will be rented out for events.
But beverage coolers are just the tech demo: “We are really building a bigger box for supermarket cooling cabinets,” co-CEO Timur Sirman said. “This is where we can actually reduce energy costs and maintenance costs significantly.” The global market for commercial refrigeration is worth $37 billion, according to Grand View Research.
To capitalize on the opportunity, Magnotherm is announcing a seed round today. In an exclusive with TechCrunch+, Sirman said the company was shooting for €5 million, “and now, we’re actually oversubscribed.” Investor interest was so great that they’re closing the round with €6.3 million.
Extantia Capital led the round, with Hessen Kapital, Lauda Dr. R. WOBSER Beteiligungs-GmbH and Revent joining. Four investors from the Better Ventures Angel Club also participated.
Dethroning old tech
The technology Magnotherm hopes to dethrone is broadly used and deeply entrenched. It’s not as efficient as it could be, but more troubling are the substances it uses to keep things cool. The refrigerator sitting in your kitchen gets its chill from the physical properties of its refrigerants, the gases that loop through the cooling system.
None of these refrigerants come without tradeoffs. First generation refrigerants — freon and its ilk — chewed a hole in the ozone layer. Newer ones are more ozone-friendly, but they are powerful greenhouse gases, warming the Earth hundreds to thousands of times more than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.
Countries are working to phase out their use, but finding replacements hasn’t been easy. One frontrunner, propane, is flammable, and regulators have hesitated to greenlight its use in larger refrigerators in case of leaks. Carbon dioxide is another contender, but it only works as a refrigerant under very high pressures, which makes the whole system more expensive.