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Devon Fraser (B00584402)

PEAS 3700 - Law & Ethics


Written for: Shane Bryson
October 31, 2014

The Significance of the Refrigeration Cycle


The refrigerator is an appliance that allows us to consistently cool a space. It also has
many industrial applications, mainly in the food industry. It is valuable in its ability to keep the
contents inside the refrigerator at a low temperature to preserve food products and decrease the
chance of bacteria attacking the food. This essay provides insight to a few of the important
innovations that led to the invention of the refrigeration cycle. These inventions include, but are
not limited to the condenser, compressor, expansion valve and evaporator. The refrigeration cycle
is important for preserving foods and substances, controlling temperature in a room or building,
and controlling the cooling rate of materials that are being cast into various shapes from a hot
liquid to a solid. Most people that have enough money for a refrigerator have one and it is one of
the most popular and important household appliances. The picture below provides a visual aid to
what is actually going on in this cycle. It can be a good reference for understanding what is
explained in the contents of this essay.

Figure 1. Basic Refrigeration Cycle & Operating Conditions

There are four main components that make the refrigeration cycle possible. The cycle
operates in the following order: the condenser, expansion valve, evaporator and compressor. The
cycle involves removing heat from the refrigerated space and discharging it into ambient air. It is
important to note that these innovations also led to the invention of the heat pump. A heat pump
removes heat from a low temperature source and operates on the same cycle as the refrigerator.
For example, in the winter a heat pump can absorb cold air from outside a house and discharge
warm air into the house. Essentially if you reverse the refrigeration cycle and put the condenser
on the inside of the refrigerator, the cycle will absorb heat from the ambient air in the room and
discharge it inside the refrigerator. This causes the temperature inside the refrigerator to increase.
The cycle cannot proceed whatsoever without any of the four components mentioned in
the previous paragraph. The fluid that flows through the system is called the refrigerant. Here is
how the cycle works: The refrigerant travels through the compressor, which causes the pressure
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of the refrigerant to increase. Then the refrigerant then flows though the condenser where it is
condensed from a vapor phase to a liquid phase and gives off heat in the process. On the outside
of the refrigerator and at the back, the condenser is visible and often hot to touch. The refrigerant
flows out of the condenser and through an expansion valve. The valve causes the pressure of the
refrigerant to drop. After the expansion valve, the refrigerant goes to the evaporator. The
evaporator absorbs heat from inside the refrigerator which is then absorbed by the refrigerant.
The heat is then carried within the refrigerant to the compressor. The cycle repeats, constantly
allowing heat to be removed from the refrigerator and cooling the contents. (Yeh, 1999)
Temperature is proportional to pressure. As the compressor increases the pressure of the
system, the temperature is also increased. It is important to increase the temperature at the
compressor. When the refrigerant gets to the condenser, there must be heat available to discharge
from the system. This needs to happen because the whole point of the system is to remove heat
from the closed space inside the refrigerator.
The condenser is where the heat is actually released from the system; usually it is
released into a room or an ambient space. Heat must be released at the condenser or else it will
cycle back through the system preventing the evaporator from removing as much (if any) heat
from the refrigerated space. The heat must leave the system at the condenser in order to keep the
cycle working properly. The high pressure refrigerant can then travel to the expansion valve.
The expansion valve creates a drop in pressure. Since temperature is still proportional to
pressure, the temperature of the refrigerant is decreased as well. The pressure and temperature
must be dropped before the refrigerant enters the evaporator. If they remain high, the refrigerant
would be the same temperature or possibly higher than the temperature inside the refrigerator. If

this was the case, then heat would travel from the refrigerant into the space that is supposed to be
refrigerated.
The evaporator is the one device that actually absorbs the heat away from the refrigerated
space. With this in mind, it is very clear that a refrigerator would not have been invented as
quickly if it were not for the evaporator. In fact, all four of these components play a major role in
the refrigeration cycle.
There are undoubtedly other ways to cool a closed space. One that comes to mind is
reducing the pressure in a closed system. We know from earlier that if we reduce the pressure in
a closed system, the temperature will also decrease proportionally. One problem that arises here;
every time the door to the refrigerator is opened, the pressure equalizes almost instantly. When
the pressure increases suddenly, the temperature inside the system would increase too. Even
David Bowie could not close the door fast enough to prevent this from happening.
It is for certain there are people in the world who feel that the invention of the refrigerator
was not historically significant at all. Substantial changes would occur if the refrigeration cycle
suddenly disappeared from civilization. These impacts would be noticed much more in the first
world countries. The grocery stores would only sell food that did not need a cold temperature to
be preserved. This includes most fruits, vegetables, meats, all dairy products, frozen foods, etc. If
you were to get hurt and needed ice to reduce the swelling of your injury, that would require ice.
Air conditioners run on a refrigeration cycle and are appreciated in warmer climates. On the
other hand, the heat pump is appreciated in colder climates such as in Canada. Air conditioners
run on a refrigeration cycle.

Although our lives may not rely on the refrigeration cycle, it has certainly made things
convenient and more enjoyable in several ways. Its true there was a day when beer was
consumed at a warm temperature; although there is unlikely to be a day where a warm one is
chosen over a cold one. How could you argue with that? The refrigeration cycle was a
historically significant invention and it affects the lives of many people, all over the world.

Works Cited
Yeh, R. (1999). Compression Refrigeration System. Retrieved 10 01, 2014, from MIT:
http://web.mit.edu/2.972/www/reports/ compression_refrigeration_system/comp
ression_refrigeration_system.html (Paragraph 1)
Cebgel, Cimbala, Turner (2012). Fundamentals of Thermal-Fluid Sciences (Fourth
edition). New York: McGraw-Hill. (Page 246-248)