The cycle is performed as a refrigeration cycle that is analogous to the Carnot refrigeration cycle, but with increases and decreases in magnetic field strength instead of increases and decreases in pressure. It can be described at a starting point whereby the chosen working substance is introduced into a magnetic field, i.e., the magnetic flux density is increased. The working material is the refrigerant, and starts in thermal equilibrium with the refrigerated environment.
. Adiabatic magnetization: A magnetocaloric substance is placed in an insulated environment. The increasing external magnetic field (+H) causes the magnetic dipoles of the atoms to align, thereby decreasing the material’s magnetic entropy and heat capacity. Since overall energy is not lost (yet) and therefore total entropy is not reduced (according to thermodynamic laws), the net result is that the substance is heated (T + ΔTad).
. Isomagnetic enthalpic transfer: This added heat can then be removed (-Q) by a fluid or gas — gaseous or liquid helium, for example. The magnetic field is held constant to prevent the dipoles from reabsorbing the heat. Once sufficiently cooled, the magnetocaloric substance and the coolant are separated (H=0).
. Adiabatic demagnetization: The substance is returned to another adiabatic (insulated) condition so the total entropy remains constant. However, this time the magnetic field is decreased, the thermal energy causes the magnetic moments to overcome the field, and thus the sample cools, i.e., an adiabatic temperature change. Energy (and entropy) transfers from thermal entropy to magnetic entropy, measuring the disorder of the magnetic dipoles.
. Isomagnetic entropic transfer: The magnetic field is held constant to prevent the material from reheating. The material is placed in thermal contact with the environment to be refrigerated. Because the working material is cooler than the refrigerated environment (by design), heat energy migrates into the working material (+Q).
Once the refrigerant and refrigerated environment are in thermal equilibrium, the cycle can restart.