With an ageing population, depleting resources, new eating habits and net-zero targets as we approach 2050, MDAs will have to change to be future-proof.
That is the conclusion of the ‘Fridge 2050’ report on the future of major domestic appliances prepared for the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) by the City University of London.
Key challenges identified by the report include greater connectivity, the ageing population, changing diet and eating habits, changing living spaces, environmental challenges, reducing energy usage and the circular economy.
The report’s authors, Dr Sam Brooks and Prof Rajkumar Roy, concluded: “We need to ensure future efficiency benefits are affordable and available to a broad section of society, either with appliances sold as a service or by offering affordable upgrades with remanufacturing. Manufacturers have played a key role in creating efficient appliances. They should also take an active role in the end life of MDAs or support other organisations working on reusing, recycling and remanufacturing old MDAs.
“As we approach 2050, our [appliances] will have to change to be future-proof. Improvements to existing designs should still be encouraged, including further research and concept designs. The key technology for our ‘Fridges in 2050’ might not yet exist.”
The report said that reducing energy use was a key priority and highlighted that energy usage of fridge-freezers had fallen by around 50% in the past 20 years, with washing machines and dryers achieving a 20% reduction.
The report concluded that smart connected appliances are growing in popularity and affordability and that the long lifespan and high cost of MDAs are likely to lead to a gradual uptake of these smart appliances.
Smart appliances, it said, have the potential to help us address environmental challenges, encourage us to eat sustainably or tell us food is going off, while washing machines can adjust water or power depending on how dirty clothing is, and all appliances could coordinate with the national grid to optimise when power is used.
Turning to cooking appliances, it felt it was unlikely that robotic, automated systems would be fully trusted by consumers and it concluded that assisted cooking system that help users to cook, explore different recipes and monitor the cooking process for optimal results, would be much more useful.
In terms of energy usage, the report said cooking appliances had not reduced their energy usage greatly because of the need to preheat and pointed to a new oven design by Brave that uses infra-red to heat up different zones quickly and remove the need for preheating.
It said that there was still a preference for cooking on gas in the UK but that this is likely to change as Government push to reduce the UK’s gas usage due to the finite supply, urging a transition either to electric power or hydrogen. New designs or conversions kits would be needed for hydrogen gas operation, and the report said that in new-builds induction hobs are likely to become dominant as prices fall.
It also pointed out new designs should be “movable and adaptable” and that induction technology may not be limited to hobs. It pointed to the Whirlpool Absolute oven that has an induction shelf. In future, it suggested that ideas such as a clip-on a induction element for pans and wall-mounted hobs would be beneficial for smaller living spaces.
In refrigeration, the report said that VCC (vapour compression cycle) refrigeration is still likely to dominate cooling technology in 2050, but with higher efficiency compressors and only HC gases. It suggested that solid-state cooling refrigerators could be seen soon, though currently these are not developed enough for widespread domestic use. It also pointed to new features to reduce door opening and feed back to users to help prevent food waste. It saw improved insulation as a way to help reduce power usage and said that vacuum induction panels are expected to dominate insulation, though the ageing effect on all insulation needs further evaluation.
In washing machines and dryers, it said they will have to catch microfibres as well as improving efficiency. Lower temperature and water use should be encouraged by using active oxygen or ultrasound technology to aid cleaning by vibrating jelly instead of using water (an Electrolux Design Lab entry). While for drying, new heat pumps and vacuum dryers can help drive greater efficiency. It also pointed out that one company, Morus is promising a dryer using vacuum technology (pictured) that it says is 40% more efficient and dries clothes in just 15 minutes.
To cope with the UK’s ageing population, research has shown that complete automation causes confusion and would result in lower uptake, and the report concluded that instead smart tech that assists with everyday tasks is a better solution. It also referred to voice activation to remove the need for less able users to grapple with buttons and switches. Strangely, the issue of accessibility is not highlighted in the report.
And in terms of the circular economy and embracing the key practices of reduce, recycle, reuse and remanufacture, the report said that most manufacturers concentrate on the first two and neglect reuse and remanufacture. It proposes the use of more recyclable materials and says that with new right to repair laws there may be a growing industry for the repair of MDAs.
It says that currently in the UK, remanufacture is based primarily in the automotive, aerospace and heavy-duty off-road products, but it suggests remanufacturing could be combined with leasing of products to enable lower-income families to buy more expensive premium products.