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Energy Effiicient Refridgeration

Energy Effiicient Refridgeration

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Published by: Thomas "Hirudinea" Leech on Jul 13, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Tom Chalko
, MSc, PhDMt Best, Australia, mtbest.net
This article describes a household refrigerator that requires about 0.1 kWh per dayto operate. The refrigerator offers excellent  food-preserving performance, becausetemperature fluctuations in its interior arenaturally minimized during everyday use. This fridge is 10 to 20 times more energy efficient than typical household fridges on the market today. It seems that the biggest obstacles inincreasing the energy efficiency and food- preserving performance of household refrigerators are strange human habits and lack of understanding of Nature, not technology or cost.
Chest fridge
Comparing the daily energy consumption of various refrigeration devices available on themarket reveals that well-designed chest freezersconsume less electricity per day thanrefrigerators of comparable volume, even thoughfreezers maintain much larger interior-exteriortemperature difference (their interiors are muchcooler). While chest freezers typically havebetter thermal insulation and larger evaporatorsthan fridges, there is another important reasonfor their efficiency.Vertical doors in refrigeration devices areinherently inefficient. As soon as we open avertical fridge door – the cold air escapes, simplybecause it is heavier than the warmer air in theroom. When we open a chest freezer – the coolair stays inside, just because it’s heavy. Any leakor wear in a vertical door seal (no seal is perfect)causes significant loss of refrigerator efficiency.In contrast, even if we leave the chest freezerdoor wide open, the heavy cool air will stillremain inside.Designing and marketing refrigeration deviceswith vertical doors is clearly an act against the Nature of Cold Air. Shouldn’t we cooperate with Nature rather than work against it?In 2004 I became really curious just howefficient a “chest fridge” can be. After contactingsome leading fridge manufacturers anddiscovering they never made and tested aconcept of a chest fridge, I decided to make myown test. I bought a well-designed chest freezer(Vestfrost SE255 chest freezer with 600arefrigerant) and converted it into a fridge.
Converting chest freezer into fridge
The main difference between a freezer and afridge is the temperature maintained inside.Freezers maintain sub-zero (freezing)temperatures down to –25
C, while fridgesoperate somewhere between +4
and +10
C.Hence, turning a freezer into a fridge meanschanging the temperature control. Rather thaninterfering with the thermostat of the freezer, Idecided to install an external thermostat to cutthe power off when the temperature of my choiceis reached. The block diagram in Fig 1 illustratesthe idea.Connection diagram (Fig 1) is really simple.Thermostat relay cuts the power to the freezer.Thermistor (the temperature sensor) is placedinside the freezer at the end of a thin 2-wireflexible cable. I used the freezer drain hole topass the thermistor cable inside the coolingcompartment.I have also removed the fridge interior light bulb,rated 15 Watts, because I avoid wasting energy
ChestfreezerElectronic thermostatJunction boxthermistorA NECOM NC
Fig. 1. Wiring diagram of the chest freezer convertedinto chest fridge. Active (A) connection passes viarelay terminals inside the thermostat.
as a matter of principle. I may consider installinga LED interior illumination if I find a reason foropening my fridge in the dark.
Thermostat design
Although, in essence, the thermostat function isvery simple, design of a really good freezer-to-fridge thermostat system is not quite trivial.There are some unexpected problems andchallenges that only become apparent when oneaims to design a system that meets all requiredcriteria and works really well.
Thermostat requirements
1. Reliability. Fridges need to be very reliablehousehold devices, simply because our healthdepends on their reliability. Excessivetemperature fluctuations due to anymalfunctioning of the thermostat acceleratefood spoilage and introduce the associatedhealth risks. The thermostat should workunattended for years if not for decades.2. Safety. The 240V power supply to the fridgeshould be well insulated from all low-voltageelectronic components of the thermostat.3. Zero mains (240V) power consumptionduring the standby period (when the fridgecompressor is off). This requirement is
in the situation when a moderninverter with a power-demand-sensingfeature powers the fridge (in the case of asolar-powered chest fridge). Using zero-standby-power appliances allows inverterusers to save up to 0.4 kWh per day just byallowing the inverter to enter the low-power-consumption standby (sleep) mode at everyopportunity. Inverter-based energy savings of up to 0.4 kWh/day need to be considered inthe context of the daily energy consumptionof the chest fridge of 0.1 kWh. The zero-standby power requirement turned out to bethe greatest challenge in the practicalthermostat design.4. Hysteresis. The number of fridge compressorstarts per hour should be kept low, not onlyto conserve energy, but also to minimize thecompressor wear.5. The thermostat should be easy to install andshould not require any modifications to anyfreezer, so that a new freezer warranty is notcompromised in any way.6. The thermostat should be simple and easy toconstruct from readily available low costcomponents
Zero-standby-power challenges
The general trend in modern industry is toreplace electro-mechanical relays and contactorsby solid-state semiconductor relays. In our case,however, this clashes with the requirement 3.Solid-state AC relays have significantcapacitance when off. This means that when theyare connected in series with a motor (aresistive/inductive load) they allow a small ACcurrent to flow through the motor windings, evenwhen everything is off. This current causes adirect continuous power loss of about 0.5 Watt(as measured with my Vestfrost freezercompressor) and the additional power loss of about 20W to keep the 24VDC-240VAC inverteractive.Solid-state power switching becomes veryattractive when refrigeration compressor motoris powered by a DC power source. Since ACsemiconductor switches and relays cannot meetthe zero-standby-power requirement, we have toconsider them unsuitable for our AC fridgeapplication.Hence, for a standard AC powered refrigerator,we need to settle for a properly rated relay. Afterexperimenting with a few brands and designs, Idecided to use OMRON G6RN-1A DC12 relay.In addition to its ability to handle small inductiveload, and low-energy switching, it has about 7kVinsulation between its 12V coil and its 240Vcontacts, which I consider important from thesafety point of view.Due to the zero-standby-power requirement, allelectronics of our thermostat, including thetemperature-sensing system, need to be poweredfrom a battery-based power supply.Since we also require our system to workunattended for years (or decades) we haveanother challenge to meet: design of a UPS(Uninterrupted Power Supply) that can work formany years unattended. The battery in this UPSneeds to be charged when the fridge compressoris turned on.
The design
The schematic of the system that I currently useis depicted in Fig 2. It is a result of acompromise between the minimal possiblepower consumption, simplicity and the cost of components. The temperature sensing systemconsists of thermistor R1 (BC 2322 640 54103,10k
@25ºC) interfaced with an op-amp. TheLM324 quad op-amp that I selected has quitelow power consumption (<0.7 mA) and canoperate from single voltage power supply, whichgreatly simplifies the design.U1C and U1D serve as buffers, to minimize thepower consumption taken by the temperaturemeasurement and comparison system down tonegligible values. U1B is a summing amplifier.U1A is a Schmidt trigger with easy to adjusthysteresis (by changing R13), set here atapproximately 0.5ºC. Capacitor C4 preventsradio signals that may appear on the longthermistor R1 cable from interfering withfunctioning of the system.The switch SW1 addresses the issue of poweringthe system down (the center-off position) andallows the thermostat to operate in two modes:powered by mains 240V (“SW1 up”, in whichcase the battery can be removed) and from thebattery (“SW1 down”, the zero-standby-powermode). The “SW1 up” mode also addresses theissue of the initial charging of the battery. Note the use of the micro-power LM2936 as a5V regulator. Typically used LM7805 would byitself consume 5 times more power than theentire circuit and would prevent the entiresystem to become classified as micro-power.Using LM7805 would make battery dischargecycles 5 times deeper and hence requiring 5times larger capacity battery for sustainedoperation, not to mention a larger transformer tokeep the battery charged.In “SW1 down” mode, the battery is chargedwhen the freezer relay and the compressor areon, which, for my Vestfrost fridge, is between 1and 2 minutes per hour. The rest of the time, thethermistor circuitry is powered up by the battery,and it does not draw any current from the 240Vmains supply.During the system operation, the nominal 8.4V NiMh battery voltage varies between 9.2V and9.4V, so that in practical terms the batteryremains fully charged and hence can operate formany years.
Fig 2. Schematic of the zero-standby-power freezer-to-fridge thermostat. Earth connection (not shown) must be carriedfrom the AC power supply cable to the freezer supply cable. Suitably rated MOV (metal oxide varistor) installed between240V output and the neutral terminals can help to protect the lifespan of the relay

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