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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

Integrating Alternative And Conventional Cooling Technologies
Integrating Alternative And Conventional Cooling Technologies

And Conventional

Integrating Alternative And Conventional Cooling Technologies

Cooling Technologies

By Reinhard Radermacher, Ph.D., Fellow ASHRAE; Bao Yang, Ph.D.; and Yunho Hwang, Ph.D., Member ASHRAE

R esearch into cooling technologies has been preoccupied with

improving the energy efficiency of traditional vapor compres-

sion systems and the development and use of more environmentally

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

exploration and development and integration of alternative cooling

technologies such as thermoelectrics, magnetocalorics, acoustic

refrigeration, and Stirling cycles.

Traditionally, these technologies have been investigated as substitutes for con- ventional vapor compression systems. However, as exemplified below, their most productive near-term applica- tions could well be in enhancing vapor compression cycles. This contribution is intended to point out opportunities for

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

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the thermoelectrics as one of the selected alternative technologies is introduced and reviewed. Finally, we present new inte- gration options, and, thus, opportunities, on how some of these technologies may considerably enhance the performance of traditional vapor compression systems.

Vapor Compression Systems

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 Uni- versity 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.

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great merit contribute significantly to the early and lasting suc- cess of this cycle. One is the use of the latent heat of vaporiza- tion of the working fluid. It allows transferring large amounts of heat per unit mass of the working fluid at essentially a fixed temperature level. The temperature level does not change, and, therefore, degrade with the amount of heat exchanged. The second benefit results from the fact that the expansion process can be conducted with the use of a simple flow re- striction with a relatively small loss of overall efficiency. The third merit is the lack of the requirement of any internal heat exchange or regenerator. While for some working fluids an internal heat exchanger, that is a suction line heat exchanger, is very advantageous, it is not an absolute necessity for the efficient operation of vapor compression cycles in general. These merits lead to the early adoption of vapor compression technology more than a century ago. As a result, a tremendous amount of experience, resources, manufacturing capability, installed infrastructure and well-trained professionals and technicians are available. However, the industry is faced with the challenges of continuously reducing the system cost while improving the energy efficiency. The authors selected improvement of energy efficiency as an area of endeavor to enhance the vapor compression system.

Thermoelectrics and Its Potential

The following technologies were selected for initial consider- ation for the alternative cooling technologies: thermoelectrics, magnetocalorics, thermoacoustics and the Stirling cycle. The reason is that the authors believe these technologies are re- ceiving the most attention. Some are making inroads into the market (thermoelectrics), and some are described in the litera- ture as having great potential (Stirling, magnetocalorics and thermoacoustics). In the following, thermoelectric technology, which is selected based on its deeper market penetration than the other technologies, is briefly reviewed by first describing the underlying characteristics, assessing merits and challenges and venturing a prediction of its applicability. Thermoelectric cooling is based on the Peltier effect—a creation of a temperature difference from an electric voltage. The underlying physics is as follows: the electrons or holes in metals or semiconductors carry not only electricity but also energy. When an electric current is passed through two dis- similar metals or semiconductors (n-type and p-type) that are connected to each other at two junctions, the current drives a transfer of heat from one junction to the other: one junction cools off while the other heats up, as illustrated in Figure 1a. The Seebeck effect, 1 the conversion of temperature differences directly into electricity, is the reverse of the Peltier effect. This effect is the principle at work behind thermoelectric generators, as illustrated in Figure 1b.

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The temperature lift and the capacity of a thermoelectric cooler increase with the applied voltage and resulting current before reaching their maximum. There are two competing effects related to their maximum temperature lift and cooling capacity. An increasing temperature difference causes a heat flow that is op- posite to the heat pumping effect (which changes linearly with the temperature difference), and the second is Joule heating, which also reduces the produced cooling capacity (and which increases with the current squared). Thus, the coefficient of performance (COP) decreases rapidly with increasing temperature lift, and there is a maximum in available cooling capacity. However, thermoelectric cooling has shown a significant advantage as compared to vapor compression systems. All loss mechanisms decrease with decreasing temperature lift. 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. Consequently, thermoelectric cooling is very well suited for small temperature lifts where it achieves very high COPs as shown in Figure 2. Here the temperature lift is plotted as a func- tion of the power input to a typical thermo-electric element. For a temperature lift of 5 K, the COP is 10. It can be expected that for temperature lifts below 5 K this technology could outperform vapor compression and possibly all other competing concepts. Other merits of thermoelectrics are infinite shelf life, no moving parts, little material compatibility issues and high reliability. The first challenge faced by thermoelectrics is the low efficiency of the current thermoelectric material that is com- mercially available. However, recent development in semicon- ductors and nanotechnology contributed to new thermoelectric materials having high efficiency. Commercialization of these advanced thermoelectric materials could increase the efficiency of thermoelectric cooling systems in general. The second chal- lenge is very close coupling between the module itself and the available heat transfer area in terms of proximity and overall size. Except for the use of fins, one or two secondary loops may be required to access available heat sinks and sources. Current applications of thermoelectrics are personal heat- ing/cooling, portable cooler/heater, cooled-or-heated car seats, cold start for the diesel engines, small-scale electric power sources, cooling microprocessors, cooling infrared detectors and deep-space missions, fiber-optic switches, biotechnology, wristwatches powered exclusively by the heat from the human body, and others. 310

Integration Options

The following concepts were developed on the basis of the ob- servation that alternative cooling technologies have significant strengths as compared to vapor compression systems in certain regions of the operating envelope. For example, thermoelectric systems show excellent efficiencies at small temperature lifts.

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Hot Cold Cold Hot Junction Junction Junction Junction n Type n Type Power Power Output
Hot
Cold
Cold
Hot
Junction
Junction
Junction
Junction
n
Type
n
Type
Power
Power
Output
Input
p
Type
p
Type
Heat
Heat
Heat
Heat
Rejected
Absorbed
Rejected
Input
(a) Cooling/Heating
(b) Power Generation

Figure 1: Schematic of semiconductor thermoelectrics.

50 10 40 30 20 1 10 0 –10 0.1 Temperature Lift (K) COP
50
10
40
30
20
1
10
0
–10
0.1
Temperature Lift (K)
COP

0.001

0.01

0.1

1

3

Electric Power Supplied to Thermoelectric Cooler (W)

Figure 2: Temperature lift versus COP.

While the applications of this advantage are limited, it can be used potentially quite beneficially in vapor compression systems as illustrated next.

Staged TE Subcooler Condenser Condenser Expansion Compressor Device Evaporator Evaporator
Staged TE
Subcooler
Condenser
Condenser
Expansion
Compressor
Device
Evaporator
Evaporator

Thermoelectric

Subcooler

Expansion

Device

Compressor

(a) Single TE Element

(b) Staged TE Elements

Figure 3: Schematic of vapor compression cycle with TE subcooler.

 

3

Conventional R-134a TE Enhanced
Conventional
R-134a
TE Enhanced

15

 

200

Conventional R-134a TE Enhanced
Conventional
R-134a
TE Enhanced

50

2.8

 

Enhancement in COP (%)

Cooling Capcity (KJ/kg)

180

40

 

10

 

Enhancement (%)

 

2.6

160

30

COP

2.4

5

140

20

2.2

2

0

120

100 0

10

0

 

0

5

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35

   

5

10

15

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25

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35

 

Refrigerant Subcooling (°C) (a) COP

   

Refrigerant Subcooling (°C) (b) Cooling Capacity

 

Figure 4: Performance enhancement with subcooling.

at the lowest refrigeration temperature produced by the respec- tive vapor compression system. To better take advantage of the properties of the thermoelec- tric element, it is proposed to use a staged subcooling device as indicated in Figure 3b. The first element after the condenser outlet provides a small amount of subcooling, with the resulting small temperature lift of the thermoelectric element, and has therefore a very high COP. The next thermoelectric element provides a small amount of additional subcooling albeit at a slightly reduced COP. As additional thermoelectric elements are added, each subsequent one has to overcome a higher lift at decreasing efficiency. When calculating the performance of the vapor compression system with such a staged thermoelectric subcooling device, the following result is found as shown in Figure 4a. The horizontal axis shows the degree of subcooling, the vertical axis on the left shows the COP and on the right, as

Thermoelectrically Enhanced Liquid Subcooling

In a conventional vapor compression system, with a traditional condenser that includes a subcooler, liquid refrigerant leaving the subcooler only can be cooled to the temperature level of the heat sink. Additional subcooling would provide additional capacity while the power input to the compressor would not be affected. Using a traditional suction line heat ex- changer, while providing additional sub- cooling, will negatively affect compressor power input. 11,12 On the other hand, using a thermoelectric element for subcooling, the liquid refrigerant can now be sub- cooled significantly at a COP that exceeds that of the original vapor compression system. This is a consequence of the very high COP of a thermoelectric element at

small lifts. Therefore, additional capacity is obtained while the compressor power input is not affected at all. However, there is additional power required to operate the thermoelectric element. This additional power input is less than the compressor would require for the same capacity increase. Figure 3 shows a schematic of the vapor compression cycle with the thermoelectric subcooling element indicated after the condenser. A performance evaluation based on a simple vapor compression cycle without pressure drop and 100% isentropic compressor efficiency yields an increase in COP for refriger- ant R-134a of about 3.5% for 5 K degrees of subcooling in an air-conditioning application. Significantly larger savings are achievable with the modifications discussed below. The ef- ficiency of the thermoelectric element depends strongly on its temperature lift and thus the degree of subcooling. Furthermore, although the thermoelectric element provides subcooling at a very small temperature lift, this additional capacity is available

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a percentage, the change in COP for refrigerant R-134a in a

refrigeration application. Up to a subcooling level of about 15 K, the COP improves at decreasing slope and reaches a maximum

at about 15 K degrees of subcooling. Additional subcooling with

additional thermoelectric elements still shows an increased COP over the baseline, but it is lower than the maximum. The COP

decreases until it reaches the baseline COP obtained without any subcooling. But now the subcooling is about 35 K resulting in a considerable increase in capacity. Figure 4b shows the change in capacity due to the subcooling as a function of degrees of subcooling. The left vertical axis in Figure 4b shows capac- ity values, while the right axis shows the percentage change of capacity. While the COP peaks according to Figure 4a at 15 K degrees of subcooling at about 20% capacity increase ac- cording to Figure 4b, the capacity keeps increasing to about 40% at 35 K degrees of subcooling. This observation has interesting im- plications. Obviously, the capacity of the system can be modulated considerably (the higher the temperature lift of the vapor compression system, the larger the range) and for part of that range con- siderable improvement in efficiency is possible also. Furthermore, the evapora- tor and the heat rejection capability, i.e.,

condenser airflow rate and fan motor have to be designed accordingly. One also must consider the additional cost of the thermoelectric element and the respective

power supply. Nevertheless, this option of thermoelectric subcooling can enhance efficiency and capacity without adding any moving parts which would suggest good reliability. It could also be seen as

a simple add-on for an existing system,

just for the purpose of increasing capacity. Research at the Center for Environmental Energy Engineering is exploring this op- tion further.

Similarly to thermoelectrically en- hanced liquid subcooling, a separate small vapor compression cycle can be dedicated to enhance the liquid subcooling. More- over, the optimum use of this option would lead to new inves- tigation on two-stage cycles. Further investigation is needed to find out which option has higher efficiency at low-temperature lift and lower cost among two enhanced subcooling options.

the thermoelectric element will increase the temperature of the fins by a few degrees and, thus, lead to a considerable increase in efficiency of the respective vapor compression system or a considerable reduction in heat exchanger size. Furthermore, one might consider using this enhancement only in the sub- cooling section of the heat exchanger and, thus, implementing thermoelectric subcooling without increasing the demands on condenser airflow rate. Figure 6 shows the heat rejection capability of a sample heat exchanger (on the vertical axis) versus power input to the thermoelectric element. The heat rejection capability increases with increasing power to the thermoelectric element and reaches a maximum after which the losses within the thermoelectric element exceed the benefits of the heat pumping effects. This graph also shows the COP as a function of power input (dashed line). Furthermore, the evaporator also could be thermoelectrically enhanced. This will allow either increasing moisture removal or reducing evaporator size. In addition, when this feature is used simultaneously for the evaporator and condenser, the COP of the underlying vapor compression system can be increased considerably.

Additional Options for Stirling Cycle, Acoustic Systems & Others

Options for Stirling Cycle, Acoustic Systems & Others Figure 5: Schematic of TE-enhanced fin. 1 10

Figure 5: Schematic of TE-enhanced fin.

1 10 0.8 0.6 1 0.4 0.2 Heat Load per Conventional Fin 0 0.1 Heat
1
10
0.8
0.6
1
0.4
0.2
Heat Load per Conventional Fin
0
0.1
Heat Load per TE-enhanced Fin (W)
COP

0.001

0.01

0.1

1

3

Electric Power Supplied to TEC (W)

Figure 6: Heat rejection versus power supply

to thermoelectric cooler.

Three other opportunities would allow

subcooling of the refrigerant in a vapor compression system by using alternative technologies. The Stirling cycle by itself (without secondary loops) has high efficiencies at high lift conditions. Thus, one might consider using a Stirling cycle providing subcooling all the way down to the evapo- rator temperature level in a refrigeration

system. The expected advantage would be high COP for the subcooling process and the overhead of secondary loops

is already built into the original vapor compression system. The cold head of the Stirling engine would cool liquid refrigerant upstream of the ex- pansion valve while the hot heat rejection heat exchanger of the Stirling cycle evaporates liquid coming from the condenser and recirculates vapor to the condenser inlet (thus, using a portion of the refrigerant from the condenser outlet for a thermosyphon loop). It is expected that the additional capacity achieved by subcooling with the Stirling cycle is achieved at a higher COP than that of the vapor compression system, while hopefully, the additional cost is lower than that of a larger compressor that otherwise would be required to achieve the same capacity level. This option deserves further investigation. The second option would use a small-scale absorption cycle. The heat input to the cycle would come from the hot discharge gas of the compressor, while the cooling capacity will be used

Thermoelectrically Enhanced Heat Exchangers

Another option to exploit the high efficiency at low-tempera- ture lift of thermoelectric elements would be to insert the ele- ment between the tube and the fins of a typical air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger or coil as illustrated in Figure 5. This could be implemented more easily using a flat tube (or sometimes termed microchannel) heat exchanger. For a condenser for example,

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to subcool liquid refrigerant leaving the condenser. This concept was proposed in the early 1980s. 13 With the advent of micro-machined heat exchangers for absorption systems, such an option may become more feasible. 14 As a third option, one could consider a small vapor compression system that is

dedicated to the subcooling of the refrig- erant leaving the condenser of the original vapor compression system. Since the pressure ratio might be very low, unconventional compressor technol- ogy may be quite suitable and possibly provide high efficiency. For example, it is speculated that an acoustic compressor

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could be used. A loudspeaker, together with a suitably designed resonator, could be used to create such pressure spikes that would allow meaningful compression of the refrigerant and, therefore, heat pump- ing across the temperature lift sufficient for subcooling. Another option could be to use a blower rather than a conventional compressor to obtain a similarly small temperature lift at high efficiency. As a final thought, one might speculate that the acoustic compressor mentioned previously could be used for the pre- compression of the refrigerant in a given vapor compression system. If such a compressor has a high efficiency for small pressure ratios, higher than that of conventional compressors, it might be beneficial. 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. The resulting decrease in pressure ratio for the main compressor leads to an increase in efficiency of the original cycle. In addition, an increase in the volumetric capacity is expected. For additional information on alterna- tive cooling technologies, readers may visit ARTI’s Web site (www.arti-research. org/index.php).

Conclusion

To stimulate further research for re- alizing the synergy of alternative and conventional cooling technologies, this article briefly reviews the strength and challenges of vapor compression technol- ogy. 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, then their greatest strength may lie in making traditional vapor compression systems more effective. Two examples are discussed in more detail: the benefits of thermoelectric subcooling of the refrig- erant in a traditional vapor compression system and thermoelectrically enhanc- ing an air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger. In both cases, the high COP at low lift conditions is exploited. Additional ideas are mentioned for other alternative tech- nologies. The synergy of the alternative

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and conventional cooling technologies will lead to considerable improvement opportunities that warrant further research.

References

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9. Böttner, H. 2005. �Micropelt ® Miniaturised Thermoelectric De- vices: Small Size, High Cooling Power Densities, Short Response Time (ICT 2005)�� Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques (Fraunhofer IPM).

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11. Domanski, P. 1995. � Theoretical Evaluation of the Vapor Compression Cycle with a Liquid-Line/Suction-Line Heat Exchanger, Economizer, and Ejector.�� National Institute of Standards and Technology. www.fire.nist.gov/bfrlpubs/build95/

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of the International Sorption Heat Pump Conference . Advertisement formerly in this space. Advertisement

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