Fisher & Paykel Appliances hopes manufacturers around the world will embrace its new technology unveiled yesterday, which the firm says is a "step change" in refrigeration design.

The Kiwi manufacturer says its refrigeration compressor, under development for almost 20 years, can improve the energy efficiency of appliances by up to 30 per cent.

According to Mercury Energy figures, that could potentially save the owner of a large fridge $60 a year.

The compressor's smaller size, when compared with conventional models, also means refrigerator volume can be increased by 15 litres - enough space to store an extra three bottles of milk.

F&P Appliances, with its US partner company, Whirlpool Corporation, will be the first firms to "test market" the new technology before it becomes commercially available to all manufacturers.

F&P Appliances chief executive Stuart Broadhurst told the Business Herald yesterday that the new compressor would be test marketed in the New Zealand firm's products this year. The company now used compressors designed and made by other manufacturers.

Broadhurst said it was a leap forward in technology that had the potential to become as important to refrigerator manufacturers as the electric car engine was to the car industry.

Forsyth Barr analyst Andrew Harvey-Green said the likelihood of global manufacturers using F&P Appliances' compressor depended on what technologies they were developing themselves.

"Given [F&P Appliances'] association with Whirlpool and of course Haier - those are two international companies that will be looking at this technology closely," he said.

For the last five years F&P Appliances developed its compressor in partnership with Brazilian manufacturer Embraco, which is owned by Whirlpool.

Broadhurst said Embraco was a leading compressor manufacturer. "We need the best return on the project for shareholders and if we can take it to a global marketplace, we get a lot more from it."

About 30 New Zealand and Brazilian engineers have fine-tuned the design, which was a closely guarded secret until yesterday.

Embraco has been licensed by the New Zealand firm to manufacture the patented compressors in Brazil.

Fisher & Paykel Appliances vice-president for product development Dan Witten-Hannah said the new compressor addressed the main things consumers wanted in their fridges - optimum "food care", maximised space and energy efficiency.

Broadhurst said: "A 30 per cent improvement in energy efficiency is unheard of. In most households, the refrigerator is one of the larger-appliance power users, and reducing energy consumption is a consistent goal of our product development team."

Witten-Hannah said the compressor's linear motor provided a more consistent temperature level.

"The customer benefit there is around food care," he said.

"If you want to keep your food at the best possible quality, you want a very flat, stable temperature profile."

Broadhurst said a sophisticated electronics system was needed to run the new compressor, while refrigerator bodies would need to be redesigned to fit the new shape.

Fisher & Paykel Appliances share price closed up 2c at 58c last night.

PUMPING WITH GAS
What is a refrigerator compressor?

It is the component of the fridge that pumps refrigerant gases around the appliance, keeping it cool.

How is F&P Appliances' new compressor different to conventional models?

It has a linear motor, which means the piston pumping gas moves in a straight line. This allows more control than in conventional models over how much gas is pumped, maximising efficiency and temperature control.

Conventional compressors have a rotating motor, which must be sped up and slowed down to control how much refrigerant gas is pumped around the fridge to control its temperature.

F&P Appliances' compressor does not use oil, like conventional models, as a lubricant. Instead, it is lubricated by gas.

What are the advantages of the new compressor?

F&P Appliances says its technology is up to 30 per cent more energy efficient than a conventional compressor.

The new technology has also reduced the amount of copper and steel wiring needed, which the company says is more environmentally friendly.