Refrigeration is a process of moving heat from one location to another in controlled conditions. The work of heat transport is traditionally driven by mechanical work, but can also be driven by heat, magnetism, electricity, laser, or other means. Refrigeration has many applications, including, but not limited to: household refrigerators, industrial freezers, cryogenics, and air conditioning. Heat pumps may use the heat output of the refrigeration process, and also may be designed to be reversible, but are otherwise similar to air conditioning units.
Refrigeration has had a large impact on industry, lifestyle, agriculture and settlement patterns. The idea of preserving food dates back to at least the ancient Roman and Chinese empires. However, mechanical refrigeration technology has rapidly evolved in the last century, from ice harvesting to temperature-controlled rail cars. The introduction of refrigerated rail cars contributed to the westward expansion of the United States, allowing settlement in areas that were not on main transport channels such as rivers, harbors, or valley trails. Settlements were also developing in infertile parts of the country, filled with newly discovered natural resources. These new settlement patterns sparked the building of large cities which are able to thrive in areas that were otherwise thought to be inhospitable, such as Houston, Texas and Las Vegas, Nevada. In most developed countries, cities are heavily dependent upon refrigeration in supermarkets, in order to obtain their food for daily consumption. The increase in food sources has led to a larger concentration of agricultural sales coming from a smaller percentage of existing farms. Farms today have a much larger output per person in comparison to the late 1800s. This has resulted in new food sources available to entire populations, which has had a large impact on the nutrition of society.
Vapour Compression Cycle Explained
The vapour-compression cycle uses a circulating liquid refrigerant as the medium which absorbs and removes heat from the space to be cooled and subsequently rejects that heat elsewhere. All such systems have four components: a compressor, a condenser, a thermal expansion valve (also called a throttle valve or metering device), and an evaporator. Circulating refrigerant enters the compressor in the thermodynamic state known as a saturated vapour and is compressed to a higher pressure, resulting in a higher temperature as well. The hot, compressed vapour is then in the thermodynamic state known as a superheated vapour and it is at a temperature and pressure at which it can be condensed with either cooling water or cooling air flowing across the coil or tubes. This is where the circulating refrigerant rejects heat from the system and the rejected heat is carried away by either the water or the air (whichever may be the case).
The condensed liquid refrigerant, in the thermodynamic state known as a saturated liquid, is next routed through an expansion valve where it undergoes an abrupt reduction in pressure. That pressure reduction results in the adiabatic flash evaporation of a part of the liquid refrigerant. The auto-refrigeration effect of the adiabatic flash evaporation lowers the temperature of the liquid and vapour refrigerant mixture to where it is colder than the temperature of the enclosed space to be refrigerated.
The cold mixture is then routed through the coil or tubes in the evaporator. A fan circulates the warm air in the enclosed space across the coil or tubes carrying the cold refrigerant liquid and vapour mixture. That warm air evaporates the liquid part of the cold refrigerant mixture. At the same time, the circulating air is cooled and thus lowers the temperature of the enclosed space to the desired temperature. The evaporator is where the circulating refrigerant absorbs and removes heat which is subsequently rejected in the condenser and transferred elsewhere by the water or air used in the condenser.
To complete the refrigeration cycle, the refrigerant vapour from the evaporator is again a saturated vapour and is routed back into the compressor.