The following article was published in ASHRAE Journal, October

2007. ©Copyright 2007 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating
and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. It is presented for educational
purposes only. This article may not be copied and/or distributed
electronically or in paper form without permission of ASHRAE.

Integrating Alternative
And Conventional
Cooling Technologies
By Reinhard Radermacher, Ph.D., Fellow ASHRAE; Bao Yang, Ph.D.; and Yunho Hwang, Ph.D., Member ASHRAE


esearch into cooling technologies has been preoccupied with the thermoelectrics as one of the selected
alternative technologies is introduced and

improving the energy efficiency of traditional vapor compres- reviewed. Finally, we present new inte-

acceptable refrigerants. However, more effort can be devoted to the

gration options, and, thus, opportunities,
on how some of these technologies may
considerably enhance the performance of
traditional vapor compression systems.

exploration and development and integration of alternative cooling

Vapor Compression Systems

sion systems and the development and use of more environmentally

technologies such as thermoelectrics, magnetocalorics, acoustic
refrigeration, and Stirling cycles.
Traditionally, these technologies have
been investigated as substitutes for conventional vapor compression systems.
However, as exemplified below, their
most productive near-term applications could well be in enhancing vapor
compression cycles. This contribution is
intended to point out opportunities for

ASHRAE Journal

potentially highly productive integrated
cooling and heat pumping technologies
that the authors consider deserving of
further investigation.
To establish a basis for the discussion
and comparison of the various technology
options, vapor compression systems are
discussed first. Second, the concepts of

Vapor compression systems are based
on the reverse Rankine cycle or vapor
compression cycle. Several features of
About the Authors
Reinhard Radermacher, Ph.D., is professor of
mechanical engineering and director of the Center
for Environmental Energy Engineering at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. He is also
editor of ASHRAE’s HVAC&R Research. Bao Yang
is assistant professor of mechanical engineering and
Yunho Hwang is research associate professor at
the University of Maryland.

October 2007

Thermoelectrics and Its Potential The following technologies were selected for initial consideration for the alternative cooling technologies: thermoelectrics. resources. the industry is faced with the challenges of continuously reducing the system cost while improving the energy efficiency. This is not the case for vapor compression systems and other systems that involve fluid flow where the pressure drop will always have a finite value. portable cooler/heater. a tremendous amount of experience. and some are described in the literature as having great potential (Stirling. An increasing temperature difference causes a heat flow that is opposite to the heat pumping effect (which changes linearly with the temperature difference). cooling infrared detectors and deep-space missions. When an electric current is passed through two dissimilar metals or semiconductors (n-type and p-type) that are connected to each other at two junctions. Some are making inroads into the market (thermoelectrics). It can be expected that for temperature lifts below 5 K this technology could outperform vapor compression and possibly all other competing concepts. cold start for the diesel engines. These merits lead to the early adoption of vapor compression technology more than a century ago. The second benefit results from the fact that the expansion process can be conducted with the use of a simple flow restriction with a relatively small loss of overall efficiency. biotechnology. The Seebeck effect. is briefly reviewed by first describing the underlying characteristics. thermoelectric cooling has shown a significant advantage as compared to vapor compression systems. is very advantageous.3–10 Integration Options The following concepts were developed on the basis of the observation that alternative cooling technologies have significant strengths as compared to vapor compression systems in certain regions of the operating envelope. The authors selected improvement of energy efficiency as an area of endeavor to enhance the vapor compression system. The first challenge faced by thermoelectrics is the low efficiency of the current thermoelectric material that is commercially available. the COP is 10. one or two secondary loops may be required to access available heat sinks and sources. manufacturing capability. small-scale electric power sources. it is not an absolute necessity for the efficient operation of vapor compression cycles in general. Other merits of thermoelectrics are infinite shelf life. thermoelectric systems show excellent efficiencies at small temperature lifts. cooling microprocessors. recent development in semiconductors and nanotechnology contributed to new thermoelectric materials having high efficiency. Thermoelectric cooling is based on the Peltier effect—a creation of a temperature difference from an electric voltage. cooled-or-heated car seats. which also reduces the produced cooling capacity (and which increases with the current squared). ASHRAE Journal 29 . October 2007 The temperature lift and the capacity of a thermoelectric cooler increase with the applied voltage and resulting current before reaching their maximum. One is the use of the latent heat of vaporization of the working fluid. As a result. It allows transferring large amounts of heat per unit mass of the working fluid at essentially a fixed temperature level. For a temperature lift of 5 K. and the second is Joule heating. However.great merit contribute significantly to the early and lasting success of this cycle. wristwatches powered exclusively by the heat from the human body. no moving parts. The underlying physics is as follows: the electrons or holes in metals or semiconductors carry not only electricity but also energy. Consequently. as illustrated in Figure 1a. little material compatibility issues and high reliability. For example. which is selected based on its deeper market penetration than the other technologies. The third merit is the lack of the requirement of any internal heat exchange or regenerator. Except for the use of fins. magnetocalorics and thermoacoustics). installed infrastructure and well-trained professionals and technicians are available. There are two competing effects related to their maximum temperature lift and cooling capacity. The second challenge is very close coupling between the module itself and the available heat transfer area in terms of proximity and overall size. Here the temperature lift is plotted as a function of the power input to a typical thermo-electric element. Current applications of thermoelectrics are personal heating/cooling. The reason is that the authors believe these technologies are receiving the most attention. thermoacoustics and the Stirling cycle. the current drives a transfer of heat from one junction to the other: one junction cools off while the other heats up. While for some working fluids an internal heat exchanger. The temperature level does not change. Commercialization of these advanced thermoelectric materials could increase the efficiency of thermoelectric cooling systems in general. as illustrated in Figure 1b. thermoelectric cooling is very well suited for small temperature lifts where it achieves very high COPs as shown in Figure 2. degrade with the amount of heat exchanged. This effect is the principle at work behind thermoelectric generators. that is a suction line heat exchanger. fiber-optic switches.1 the conversion of temperature differences directly into electricity. Thus. is the reverse of the Peltier effect. and others. However. and. In the following. thermoelectric technology. assessing merits and challenges and venturing a prediction of its applicability. therefore. All loss mechanisms decrease with decreasing temperature lift. and there is a maximum in available cooling capacity. However. the coefficient of performance (COP) decreases rapidly with increasing temperature lift. magnetocalorics.

8 to the compressor would not be affected. While the applications of this advantage are limited. this additional capacity is available the vertical axis on the left shows the COP and on the right. it can be used potentially quite beneficially in vapor compression systems as illustrated next.1 1 3 Electric Power Supplied to Thermoelectric Cooler (W) (b) Power Generation Figure 1: Schematic of semiconductor thermoelectrics. there is additional power required to operate the tive vapor compression system.12 On the other hand. Furthermore. As additional thermoelectric elements air-conditioning application. The first element after the condenser with the thermoelectric subcooling element indicated after the outlet provides a small amount of subcooling. thermoelectric element. When calculating the performance of the ficiency of the thermoelectric element depends strongly on its vapor compression system with such a staged thermoelectric temperature lift and thus the degree of subcooling. 2. Staged TE Subcooler Thermoelectrically Enhanced Liquid Subcooling Thermoelectric Subcooler Expansion Device COP Cold Junction Temperature Lift (K) Hot Junction 10 Condenser Compressor Condenser Expansion Device Compressor ashrae. with a traditional condenser that Evaporator Evaporator includes a subcooler. subcooling device. Figure 2: Temperature lift versus COP. each subsequent one has to overcome a higher lift at achievable with the modifications discussed below. This additional power input is less than To better take advantage of the properties of the thermoelecthe compressor would require for the same capacity increase.11.6 160 30 changer. using 5 a thermoelectric element for subcooling. and has compression cycle without pressure drop and 100% isentropic therefore a very high COP. This is a consequence of the very (a) COP (b) Cooling Capacity high COP of a thermoelectric element at Figure 4: Performance enhancement with subcooling. The ef. tric element. A performance evaluation based on a simple vapor small temperature lift of the thermoelectric element. Significantly larger savings are are added. Figure 3: Schematic of vapor compression cycle with TE subcooler. Additional subcooling would provide 3 15 50 200 Conventional Conventional R-134a additional capacity while the power input R-134a TE Enhanced TE Enhanced 2.1 –10 0. The horizontal axis shows the degree of subcooling.001 0.01 0. while providing additional subcooling.provides a small amount of additional subcooling albeit at a ant R-134a of about 3. liquid refrigerant (a) Single TE Element (b) Staged TE Elements leaving the subcooler only can be cooled to the temperature level of the heat sink. very small temperature lift.50 Cold Junction n Type Hot Junction 40 n Type Power Output Power Input p Type p Type Heat Rejected Heat Absorbed Heat Rejected (a) Cooling/Heating Heat Input 30 20 1 10 0 0. additional capacity is obtained while the compressor power input is not affected at at the lowest refrigeration temperature produced by the Enhancement (%) ASHRAE Journal Cooling Capcity (KJ/kg) 30 Enhancement in COP (%) COP In a conventional vapor compression system. 40 180 Using a traditional suction line heat ex10 2. as October 2007 .2 120 10 the liquid refrigerant can now be sub2 0 0 cooled significantly at a COP that exceeds 100 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 that of the original vapor compression Refrigerant Subcooling (°C) Refrigerant Subcooling (°C) system.decreasing efficiency. with the resulting condenser. will negatively affect compressor 2. the following result is found as shown in although the thermoelectric element provides subcooling at a Figure 4a. small lifts.4 20 140 power input. Therefore.5% for 5 K degrees of subcooling in an slightly reduced COP. However. it is proposed to use a staged subcooling device Figure 3 shows a schematic of the vapor compression cycle as indicated in Figure 3b. The next thermoelectric element compressor efficiency yields an increase in COP for refriger.

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one might 0. gas of the compressor. increasing to about 40% at 35 K degrees Furthermore. One also subcooling of the refrigerant in a vapor 10 must consider the additional cost of the compression system by using alternative 0. Nevertheless.4 any moving parts which would suggest consider using a Stirling cycle providing good reliability.1 just for the purpose of increasing capacity.pansion valve while the hot heat rejection heat exchanger of the over. Further investigation is needed to recirculates vapor to the condenser inlet (thus.2 Heat Load per Conventional Fin a simple add-on for an existing system. lead to a considerable increase the COP improves at decreasing slope and reaches a maximum in efficiency of the respective vapor compression system or a at about 15 K degrees of subcooling. Furthermore. the evaporaAdditional Options for Stirling Cycle. a separate small vapor compression Stirling engine would cool liquid refrigerant upstream of the excycle can be dedicated to enhance the liquid subcooling. the vapor compression system. while hopefully. The left vertical axis in Figure 4b shows capac.01 0.October 2007 COP Heat Load per TE-enhanced Fin (W) a percentage. heat exchanger or coil as illustrated in Figure 5. fins by a few degrees and. It is expected that the additional capacity achieved by subcooling with the Stirling cycle is achieved at a higher COP Thermoelectrically Enhanced Heat Exchangers than that of the vapor compression system. In addition.rejection capability increases with increasing power to the ity values.e. Up to a subcooling level of about 15 K.the heat pumping effects.8 thermoelectric element and the respective technologies. power supply.1 1 3 Research at the Center for Environmental be high COP for the subcooling process Electric Power Supplied to TEC (W) Energy Engineering is exploring this opand the overhead of secondary loops Figure 6: Heat rejection versus power supply tion further. tor and the heat rejection capability. Figure 6 shows the heat rejection considerable increase in capacity. While the COP peaks according to Figure 4a at losses within the thermoelectric element exceed the benefits of 15 K degrees of subcooling at about 20% capacity increase ac. The COP cooling section of the heat exchanger and. Acoustic Systems & Others condenser airflow rate and fan motor Three other opportunities would allow 1 have to be designed accordingly. This graph also shows the COP as cording to Figure 4b. It could also be seen as subcooling all the way down to the evapo0. More. using a portion find out which option has higher efficiency at low-temperature of the refrigerant from the condenser outlet for a thermosyphon lift and lower cost among two enhanced subcooling options. Additional subcooling with considerable reduction in heat exchanger size. loop).Stirling cycle evaporates liquid coming from the condenser and tigation on two-stage cycles.001 0. Similarly to thermoelectrically encompression system. This could be The second option would use a small-scale absorption cycle.. be thermoelectrically enhanced. i. siderable improvement in efficiency is possible also. The expected advantage would 0. is already built into the original vapor to thermoelectric cooler. Thus. Figure 4b shows the change capability of a sample heat exchanger (on the vertical axis) in capacity due to the subcooling as a function of degrees of versus power input to the thermoelectric element. But now the subcooling is about 35 K resulting in a on condenser airflow rate. For a condenser for example. system. while the right axis shows the percentage change thermoelectric element and reaches a maximum after which the of capacity.otherwise would be required to achieve the same capacity level. rator temperature level in a refrigeration 0 0. the capacity of the or reducing evaporator size. the capacity keeps a function of power input (dashed line). system can be modulated considerably when this feature is used simultaneously (the higher the temperature lift of the for the evaporator and condenser.additional cost is lower than that of a larger compressor that ture lift of thermoelectric elements would be to insert the ele. while the cooling capacity will be used ASHRAE Journal 33 . thus. Figure 5: Schematic of TE-enhanced fin. The heat subcooling. the Another option to exploit the high efficiency at low-tempera. The cold head of the hanced liquid subcooling. ment between the tube and the fins of a typical air-to-refrigerant This option deserves further investigation. but it is lower than the maximum. the change in COP for refrigerant R-134a in a the thermoelectric element will increase the temperature of the refrigeration application. Furthermore.6 thermoelectric subcooling can enhance secondary loops) has high efficiencies 1 efficiency and capacity without adding at high lift conditions. implementing decreases until it reaches the baseline COP obtained without any thermoelectric subcooling without increasing the demands subcooling. this option of The Stirling cycle by itself (without 0. Obviously. additional thermoelectric elements still shows an increased COP one might consider using this enhancement only in the subover the baseline. the optimum use of this option would lead to new inves. implemented more easily using a flat tube (or sometimes termed The heat input to the cycle would come from the hot discharge microchannel) heat exchanger. This will This observation has interesting imallow either increasing moisture removal plications. the larger COP of the underlying vapor compression the range) and for part of that range consystem can be increased considerably. the evaporator also could of subcooling. thus.

The synergy of the alternative 34 ASHRAE Journal ashrae.arti-research. In addition. Since the pressure ratio might be very low.13 With the advent of micro-machined heat exchangers for absorption systems. could be subcool liquid refrigerant leaving the condenser. readers may visit ARTI’s Web site (www.14 As a third option. such an option may become more feasible. it is speculated that an acoustic compressor Advertisement formerly in this space. This concept was proposed in the early 1980s. org/index. If such a compressor has a high efficiency for small pressure ratios. For additional information on alternative cooling technologies. Two examples are discussed in more detail: the benefits of thermoelectric subcooling of the refrigerant in a traditional vapor compression system and thermoelectrically enhancing an air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger. this article briefly reviews the strength and challenges of vapor compression technology. One could envision a speaker or other such actuator to supercharge the suction port of a positive displacement compressor every time the suction port or valve opens. Conclusion To stimulate further research for realizing the synergy of alternative and conventional cooling technologies. one might speculate that the acoustic compressor mentioned previously could be used for the precompression of the refrigerant in a given vapor compression system. In both cases. Additional ideas are mentioned for other alternative technologies. one could consider a small vapor compression system that is dedicated to the subcooling of the refrigerant leaving the condenser of the original vapor compression October 2007 . the high COP at low lift conditions is exploited.php). higher than that of conventional compressors. For example. unconventional compressor technology may be quite suitable and possibly provide high efficiency. it might be beneficial. together with a suitably designed resonator. The resulting decrease in pressure ratio for the main compressor leads to an increase in efficiency of the original cycle. an increase in the volumetric capacity is expected. As a final thought. could be used to create such pressure spikes that would allow meaningful compression of the refrigerant and. then their greatest strength may lie in making traditional vapor compression systems more effective. heat pumping across the temperature lift sufficient for subcooling. therefore. A loudspeaker. Another option could be to use a blower rather than a conventional compressor to obtain a similarly small temperature lift at high efficiency. This is followed by a similar review of one of the most promising alternative cooling technologies resulting in the following observation: when focusing on what the alternative technologies do best.

Gromov. 12. and Y. Alefeld.C.” in Chemistry. “Novelles experiences sur la caloriecete des courans electriques. Yershova. “Cooling system Advertisement formerly in this space. 2005. B. J. 2004. Fla. ASHRAE Journal 35 . 1834. G. 13. T. L. “Phonon heat conduction in superlattices. High Cooling Power Densities.” Sixth European Workshop on Thermoelectrics. Hwang. pp.: Taylor & Francis.. 7. H. Choi. L. 8. et al. Palacios. Chem. 6. Gromov. LVI: 371–387. Heat Conversion Systems. Domanski.. A. Poster #2. Vázquez. Physics and Materials Science of Thermoelectric Materials: Beyond Bismuth Telluride. Advertisement formerly in this space. Short Response Time (ICT 2005)” Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques (Fraunhofer IPM). Sanz-Bobi.and conventional cooling technologies will lead to considerable improvement opportunities that warrant further research. 5. Recent Developments and Future Aspects for Technological Progress and Applications (ICT 2002).” Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques (Fraunhofer IPM). Peltier. Arakelov G. Palacios. “Theoretical Evaluation of the Vapor Compression Cycle with a Liquid-Line/Suction-Line Heat Exchanger. Yang. 2005. 9. 11.G. Sanz-Bobi.” National Institute of Standards and Technology. October 2007 for hermetic devices based on thermoelectricity. 265–373. “Thermoelectric Micro Devices: Current State. “Complex method to control the quality of construction and performance reliability of thermoelectric modules in optoelectronic devices. “Some aspects on thermoelectric cooler optimization for applications in photodetectors. “����������������������������������������� ������������������������������������������ Magnetische polarisation der metalle und erzedurch temperatur-differenz.I. Radermacher. 3. and I. Boca Raton.B.. edited by M.” Proceedings of 18th International Conference on Photonics and Night Vision Devices. Seebeck. and Ejector. Kluwar Press. and M.��”������������������������������� Berliner ������������������������������ Akademie der Wissenschaften.A. P. Economizer. R.nist.” Ann. Yershova. 10. Kanatzidis. Hogan.pdf. and R. R.147 – 167.A. L. 4. Proceedings of 7th European Workshop on Thermoelectrics. J. 2001.������� 2002.” Proceedings of the International Sorption Heat Pump Conference. and S. Mahanti. M. Böttner. J. References 1. Fla. 1993. 2005.G. 1995. 2003. G. ����������������������������� Abhandlungen der Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. “Experimental Study on the Development of Micro Adsorption Refrigerator.: CRC Press..” Proceedings of the 7th European Workshop on Thermoelectrics. PDF/b95098. pp.Drabkin. R.J. S. 2002. and T. Vázquez.G. Böttner. H. 2002.A.P. and G.” Proceedings of 18th International Conference on Photonics and Night Vision Devices. “Micropelt® Miniaturised Thermoelectric Devices: Small Size. Yershova and G. 14. “Thermoelectric device to allow diesel engine start-up at cold weather conditions. 2004. Vapor Compression Heat Pumps: With Refrigerant Mixtures. C. 1823. Radermacher. Boca Raton. Chen. 2.