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Introduction to Refrigeration System

Basic Refrigeration Principles

If you were to place a hot cup of coffee on a table and leave it for a while, the heat in the coffee would be
transferred to the materials in contact with the coffee, i.e. the cup, the table and the surrounding air. As
the heat is transferred, the coffee in time cools. Using the same principle, refrigeration works by removing
heat from a product and transferring that heat to the outside air.

Refrigeration System Components

There are five basic components of a refrigeration system, these are: -

 Evaporator
 Compressor
 Condenser
 Expansion Valve
 Refrigerant; to conduct the heat from the product

In order for the refrigeration cycle to operate successfully each component must be present within the
refrigeration system.

The Evaporator

The purpose of the evaporator is to remove unwanted heat from the product, via the liquid
refrigerant. The liquid refrigerant contained within the evaporator is boiling at a low-pressure. The level
of this pressure is determined by two factors:

- The rate at which the heat is absorbed from the product to the liquid refrigerant in the evaporator

- The rate at which the low-pressure vapour is removed from the evaporator by the compressor To enable
the transfer of heat, the temperature of the liquid refrigerant must be lower than the temperature of the
product being cooled. Once transferred, the liquid refrigerant is drawn from the evaporator by the
compressor via the suction line. When leaving the evaporator coil the liquid refrigerant is in vapour form.

The Compressor

The purpose of the compressor is to draw the low-temperature, low-pressure vapour from the
evaporator via the suction line. Once drawn, the vapour is compressed. When vapour is compressed it
rises in temperature. Therefore, the compressor transforms the vapour from a low-temperature vapour to
a high-temperature vapour, in turn increasing the pressure. The vapour is then released from the
compressor in to the discharge line.

The Condenser

The purpose of the condenser is to extract heat from the refrigerant to the outside air. The
condenser is usually installed on the reinforced roof of the building, which enables the transfer of heat.
Fans mounted above the condenser unit are used to draw air through the condenser coils. The
temperature of the high-pressure vapour determines the temperature at which the condensation begins.
As heat has to flow from the condenser to the air, the condensation temperature must be higher than that
of the air; usually between 12°C and -1°C. The high-pressure vapour within the condenser is then cooled
to the point where it becomes a liquid refrigerant once more, whilst retaining some heat. The liquid
refrigerant then flows from the condenser in to the liquid line.

The Expansion Valve

Within the refrigeration system, the expansion valve is located at the end of the liquid line, before
the evaporator. The high-pressure liquid reaches the expansion valve, having come from the condenser.
The valve then reduces the pressure of the refrigerant as it passes through the orifice, which is located
inside the valve. On reducing the pressure, the temperature of the refrigerant also decreases to a level
below the surrounding air. This low-pressure, low-temperature liquid is then pumped in to the evaporator.


A refrigerant is a substance or mixture, usually a fluid, used in a heat pump and refrigeration
cycle. In most cycles it undergoes phase transitions from a liquid to a gas and back again. Many working
fluids have been used for such purposes. Fluorocarbons, especially chlorofluorocarbons, became
commonplace in the 20th century, but they are being phased out because of their ozone depletion effects.
Other common refrigerants used in various applications are ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and non-
halogenated hydrocarbons such as propane.

Refrigerants are divided into groups according to their chemical composition. Following the
discovery that some of these chemical compounds may be harmful to the environment, they are being
replaced with more environmentally friendly alternatives. The process is not easy, and although there are
alternatives to old refrigerants, the new ones are usually not flawless.

In the following section, different groups of refrigerants are discussed, some examples are given and their
fields of application are described.

CFC = ChloroFluoroCarbons
Chlorofluorocarbons are refrigerants that contain chlorine. They have been banned since the
beginning of the 90's because of their negative environmental impacts. Examples of CFCs are R11, R12
and R115. The conversion of equipment and systems using CFCs has not yet been completed. On the
contrary, the illegal market for this type of refrigerants flourishes worldwide, and it is estimated that no
more than 50% of CFC systems worldwide have been upgraded.

HCFC = HydroChloroFluoroCarbons
The slow phase-out of CFCs shows it is a costly process. However, and more importantly, it also
shows the problems and indecisiveness surrounding the availability of HCFCs, which were officially
indicated as temporary (until 2030) substitutes for CFCs. The hasty actions of the European Union that
culminated in the ban of HCFCs, immediately for refrigeration and soon (2004 at the latest) for air
conditioning, has upset the industry's programs and plans.

The HCFCs contain less chlorine than CFCs, which means a lower ODP Examples of hydro
chlorofluorocarbons include R22, R123 and R124.
HFC = HydroFluoroCarbons
The hydro fluorocarbons are refrigerants that contain no chlorine and are not harmful to the
ozone layer. However, their impact on global warming is very large compared with traditional refrigerants.
The most common HFC refrigerants available since the ban on HCFCs are presented:

The most common refrigerants among halogenated hydrocarbons.

Some comments on the refrigerants presented in the table are given below:

 R32 and R125 are seldom used as single refrigerants, but only in mixtures with particularly favorable
thermodynamic properties.
 R245c and R245fa are used almost exclusively in the United States and in a rather experimental way.
 R404A has been developed as an alternative to R502 for refrigerators and freezers.
 R134a was the first HFC introduced in refrigeration and air conditioning with great success, because it
requires almost no changes in the equipment designed for R22. However, it offers a very limited
efficiency, about 40% lower than that obtained with R22. Consequently, the manufacturer has two
choices: either to accept a substantial reduction in the thermal capacity in a given system, or to increase
its dimensions (and cost) to achieve the same capacity. For this reason, R134a is used mainly in large
systems (over 250 kW) that can afford the higher costs.
 R407C is, like R134a, thermodynamically similar to R22 and works as a "drop in" refrigerant. However,
unlike R134a, which is a pure compound, R407C has a glide of 7 K, making it barely usable in small
residential (household) equipment. There are two reasons to justify such a limitation: residential
equipment is more subject than other equipment to sudden accidental losses, and it is usually serviced on
site. In the event of a sudden leakage, a 7K glide may result in changes in the proportions of the mixture,
because the relative losses of its most volatile components will be disproportionately high. If a standard
refill is used, there is no guarantee that the new refrigerant mixture has the same proportions as it had
before the leakage. Due to its high glide, this refrigerant is used only in medium-capacity systems (50-250
kW), which are usually serviced by skilled personnel.
 R410A has very attractive thermodynamic properties, higher energy efficiency than R22, no glide and
hence no problem with the mixture remaining after charge loss and refill. However, it has an operating
pressure almost double that of R22, and therefore requires a redesign of the whole system with larger
compressors, expansion valves, etc.
 R507A is used successfully in industrial and commercial refrigeration.
 R508B is less frequently used in low temperature cycles. R507A and R508B have favorable
thermodynamic properties and no problems with temperature glides, because they are azeotropic

FC = FluoroCarbons
Fluorocarbons contain no chlorine and are not harmful to the ozone layer. However, they are
extremely stable, and they have a high GWP. R218 is an example of a fluorocarbon, and FCs are also
present in the mixtures R403 and R408.

HC = HydroCarbons
Hydrocarbons are a very limited solution to the environmental problems associated with
refrigerants. They are harmless to the ozone layer (ODP = 0) and have hardly any direct greenhouse
effect (GWP<5), but they are highly flammable. The use of HCs as refrigerants is confined to Europe,
because many other countries elsewhere have banned the use of flammable gas in the presence of the
public. According to the standards ISO 55149 and EN 378.2000, this should apply also in Europe.
However, the standard IEC 355.2.20 allows the use of HCs in household refrigerators with refrigerant
charges up to 150 g.

This standard has opened the way for some European refrigerator manufacturers to produce household
refrigerators with flammable isobutene, R600a.

These have been accepted enthusiastically by environmentalists, and have achieved great success in the

NH3 = Ammonia
Ammonia, R717, is an attractive refrigerant alternative. It has been used in refrigeration systems
since 1840 and in vapor compression since 1860. In terms of its properties, it should be considered a
high-class refrigerant. Furthermore, its ODP and GWP are 0. However, although it is a self-alerting gas,
i.e. leaks can easily be detected by the smell, ammonia is very hazardous even at low concentrations
because the smell often causes panic. This is the main reason why ammonia was withdrawn from
applications for use by unskilled people and retained only for industrial applications.

It is also quite common in commercial refrigeration, although safety regulations require that it be used
with a secondary distribution loop. Obviously, this secondary loop reduces the efficiency.

CO2 = Carbon Dioxide

R744, carbon dioxide, has several attractive characteristics: non-flammable, does not cause
ozone depletion, very low toxicity index (safety A1), available in large quantities, and low cost. However, it
also has a low efficiency and a high operating pressure (approximately 10 times higher than R134a). For
the two latter reasons, efforts are needed to improve its refrigeration cycle and related technology,
particularly heat exchangers and expansion devices. A major forthcoming CO 2application seems to be air
conditioning in the automotive industry. Heat pumps could also benefit from CO 2 due to the higher
temperature that can be obtained even at very low ambient temperatures.
Summary Table

The Refrigeration Cycle

The refrigeration cycle (shown in Diagram 1 below) begins with the refrigerant in the evaporator.
At this stage the refrigerant in the evaporator is in liquid form and is used to absorb heat from the product.
When leaving the evaporator, the refrigerant has absorbed a quantity of heat from the product and is a
low-pressure, low-temperature vapour.

This low-pressure, low-temperature vapour is then drawn from the evaporator by the compressor.
When vapour is compressed it rises in temperature. Therefore, the compressor transforms the vapour
from a low-temperature vapour to a high-temperature vapour, in turn increasing the pressure. This high-
temperature, high-pressure vapour is pumped from the compressor to the condenser; where it is cooled
by the surrounding air, or in some cases by fan assistance. The vapour within the condenser is cooled
only to the point where it becomes a liquid once more. The heat, which has been absorbed, is then
conducted to the outside air.

At this stage the liquid refrigerant is passed through the expansion valve. The expansion valve
reduces the pressure of the liquid refrigerant and therefore reduces the temperature. The cycle is
complete when the refrigerant flows into the evaporator, from the expansion valve, as a low-pressure,
low-temperature liquid.